All posts from “Barack Obama”

June 15, 2012

Obama Administration Halts Prosecution of Some Young Immigrants

Homeland Security will now exercise prosecutorial discretion against those brought to the nation as children.

President Barack Obama will announce today a new policy that will affect around 800,000 young people who are in the U.S. illegally. The announcement comes on the heels of a call by a broad coalition of evangelical leaders to reform the nation's immigration system.

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The new policy applies to only some of the millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Homeland security will not prosecute immigrants who came to the country before their 16th birthday, are currently under the age of 30, and have lived in the U.S. for at least the past five years.

Immigrants who qualify must also be in school, finished high school, or be honorably discharged from the military. The policy will not apply to any immigrants convicted of a felony or who pose a threat to national security.

Secretary Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wrote a memo explaining the new policy, where the Department of Homeland Security will exercise its prosecutorial discretion by no longer pursuing cases against many of the young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. without documentation.

Continue reading Obama Administration Halts Prosecution of Some Young Immigrants...

May 25, 2012

Black Americans on Gay Marriage: Is Obama Changing Opinion?

New poll shows opinion jump from African Americans in favor of same-sex marriage

President Obama's announcement supporting same-sex marriage could have an impact on opinion among black Americans. A new poll finds that 59 percent of black Americans support same-sex marriage, a jump from just 41 percent before Obama's announcement.

In previous surveys, support among black Americans for same-sex marriage has been consistently lower than among whites. A majority of black Americans polled over the past two years have opposed same-sex marriage (38 percent support vs. 52 percent opposition), according the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

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Black Americans who attend church are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are others.  According recent Pew polls, 70 percent of black Americans who attend church regularly oppose gay marriage, compared to 47 percent among those that do not.

With the relatively small number of black Americans in the Washington Post-ABC poll, it would be difficult to tell if the change in opinion occurred among more religious black Americans.

Continue reading Black Americans on Gay Marriage: Is Obama Changing Opinion?...

May 14, 2012

Obama Campaign Taps Young Adviser, Michael Wear, for Faith Outreach

A 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office will head the campaign's faith outreach.

President Obama's re-election campaign has tapped a 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office to head up its outreach to religious communities.

Michael R. Wear, who has worked in the White House for the past three and half years, will move to Chicago to become the campaign's Faith Vote director next week, White House officials confirmed on Monday.

"It has been an honor working with Michael Wear to create positive faith-based and nonprofit partnerships to serve people in need," said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wear was DuBois' executive assistant. (CT profiled then 26-year-old DuBois in 2009)

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Wear was an intern during Obama's 2008 campaign, specializing in outreach to religious groups. He helped arrange candidate Obama's appearance at a presidential forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California as well as a meeting between Obama and prominent Christian leaders in Chicago.

Continue reading Obama Campaign Taps Young Adviser, Michael Wear, for Faith Outreach ...

April 30, 2012

White House Releases Public/Private Guidelines for Faith-based Groups

The 50-page report was issued Friday.

A new White House report that offers guidance on public/private partnerships between the government and faith-based groups leaves critical questions unanswered and does not resolve the issue of religious groups' ability to discriminate in hiring and firing, church-state watchdogs said.
The 50-page report, issued Friday, comes 18 months after President Obama issued an executive order calling for more transparency as faith-based groups work with the government to meet social needs.
The report breaks little new ground, but reaffirms that:
-- A faith-based organization can provide federally funded social services without removing religious art, scriptures and symbols from their facilities.
-- Explicitly religious activities can't be supported by federal funds but are permitted if they are funded privately and occur at a separate time and location from programs that receive government money.
-- Beneficiaries who object to the religious character of a provider must be referred promptly to an alternative.
Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, called the guidance "an important step" in implementing the recommendations from a blue-ribbon advisory board.
"A diverse group of faith and nonprofit leaders proposed ways to strengthen the government's relationship with faith-based organizations in a manner that protects religious liberty and the separation of church and state, and we are glad to move these recommendations forward," he said.
The report includes detailed examples on separating federally funded programs from privately funded religious activities, including distinct web pages and careful reporting of travel and use of electronic equipment.

Continue reading White House Releases Public/Private Guidelines for Faith-based Groups ...

March 5, 2012

Obama Warns of 'Too Much Loose Talk of War' between Israel and Iran

Poll suggests evangelicals want U.S. to support Israel in the event of an attack.

President Obama met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning to discuss growing concern over Iran's nuclear weapons program. With increasing talk of a possible Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear capabilities, U.S. leaders caution against a premature military strike.

"The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security," Obama said as Netanyahu nodded.

Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday, Obama said it was time to follow Theodore Roosevelt's axiom to “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

A slim majority of Americans said that the U.S. should remain neutral if Israel attacks Iran, according to a February poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Forty percent voiced support for Israel, while only 5 percent of suggested the U.S. should oppose military action.

Among evangelicals, nearly two-thirds said the U.S. should support Israel if it attacked Iran. Evangelical support for the U.S. backing an Israeli attack was stronger than it was among mainline Protestants and Catholics, each of whom favored neutrality over support for Israel (52 percent to 42 percent).

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February 21, 2012

Franklin Graham, Rick Santorum Bring Up Obama's Faith

Graham: 'He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.'

Franklin Graham has again stirred some backlash over comments about President Obama's faith.

Asked about whether Obama had “accepted Jesus Christ,” Graham said, “I don’t know.”

“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and God has forgiven me of my sins," said Graham, who is the son of Billy Graham and the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”

When asked if he believes former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is a Christian, Graham said, "I think so" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it... I think he's a man of faith." On former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith,” Graham said. Separate from questions about his faith, Graham said, “He would be a good president… He’s a sharp guy.” On former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he said, "I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is."

Graham spoke with CT last year about his views of Obama's faith. In 2010, he suggested Obama was born a Muslim because of his father's faith.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama has not brought up the questions about his faith.

"I did meet with the president this morning and amazingly he didn't bring this up," Carney said. "He firmly believes that getting an extra $40 in every paycheck is of vastly greater significance to most Americans than someone's opinion expressed on cable television about his personal faith, which again, he has spoken about as explicitly as a few weeks ago," Carney said, referring to Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Santorum said earlier that Obama is guided by "some phony ideal, some phony theology." His choice of words echoed Eric Metaxas's address at the National Prayer Breakfast who decried general "phony religiosity." Santorum said later that he was talking about Obama's connection to environmentalism.

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February 17, 2012

Nonprofit Groups Oppose Obama's Change in Charitable Deductions

For the fourth year in a row, President Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.

The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."

Under the Obama proposal, the tax break for charitable donations would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, those earning more than $250,000.

In real terms, that would mean a wealthy taxpayer who donates $10,000 to a charity would be able to only claim a $2,800 deduction on his taxes, rather than the current $3,500.

When it analyzed a similar proposal in Obama's 2012 budget, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said it would boost federal revenue by billions of dollars and have a "modest negative effect" on charitable giving.

Continue reading Nonprofit Groups Oppose Obama's Change in Charitable Deductions...

December 20, 2011

Social Conservatives, Sebelius Agree—for now—on Contraception and Adoption

As head of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius oversees many hot button issues important to social conservatives. And for at least a few days this December, Sebelius and social conservatives have found themselves on the same sides.

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Opposition to Sebelius began before she even entered the administration.

“It is a sad day for America and for America’s unborn children that Governor Sebelius, who is no friend to those unborn children, has been confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said back in 2009.

Since then, distrust and criticism of Sebelius has grown. The new health care law expanded the power of the head of HHS.

But this December, social conservatives have been surprised by some small Christmas miracles.

On December 7, Sebelius rejected the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to make the emergency contraception Plan B One-Step available as an over-the-counter drug without an age limit. Sebelius said the drug would still be available behind the counter but would not be available to girls 16 years old or younger.

Harvard University's Daniel Carpenter wrote in the New York Times, "For the first time in American history, a cabinet secretary — and by extension, a president — has overruled a drug-approval decision by the Food and Drug Administration."

Continue reading Social Conservatives, Sebelius Agree—for now—on Contraception and Adoption...

December 9, 2011

Obama, Clinton Elevate LGBT Issues in U.S. Foreign Policy

United States foreign policy will begin to include the protection and promotion of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons as part of its human rights efforts.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama directed all foreign assistance and diplomatic agencies to advance LGBT rights abroad. In a speech in Geneva later that day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Together, Obama and Clinton made it clear that the U.S. government views the treatment of LGBT people as important as the treatment of women, children, ethnic minorities, and other peoples.

Religion, Clinton said, is not an acceptable justification for violence against LGBT persons. “Our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people,” Clinton said. “It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Christian Post, "I certainly don't believe homosexuals or anyone else should be flogged or put to death for their sexual sins. However, I don't believe homosexuals should receive special treatment over and above anyone else either. Secretary Clinton's remarks were more than likely a painless way for the Obama administration to placate the homosexual community in the U.S."

Continue reading Obama, Clinton Elevate LGBT Issues in U.S. Foreign Policy...

December 8, 2011

FRC, PETA Call for Continuing an Explicit Military Ban on Bestiality

In an unlikely alliance, the Family Research Council (FRC) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have found a common cause: the criminalization of bestiality in the military. Both groups are calling for keeping an explicit ban on sex with animals in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that may be eliminated by the Defense Authorization Act.

One of the many changes in the act included the removal of the sodomy section of the code after the removal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban. Few realized that the UCMJ defines sodomy either as homosexual relations or as sex with an animal. By striking out the entire sodomy provision, Congress may have decriminalized bestiality.

When the Senate passed the bill last week (93 yeas, 7 nays), FRC said the new rule put the ban on bestiality in doubt. According to the FRC, removing the entire sodomy section from the UCMJ “may have inadvertently opened the door to even more perversion.” FRC told CT that its legal experts said that “by eliminating Article 125, the Senate would be creating a legal argument for bestiality.” FRC president Tony Perkins said the bestiality change was likely unintentional. However, he also suggested that the provision may be part of what the FRC sees as President Obama's attempt to shape the culture through the military. 

Continue reading FRC, PETA Call for Continuing an Explicit Military Ban on Bestiality ...

November 14, 2011

Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity

Family Research Council recently elevated the criticism of President Obama, saying the President disrespects Christianity and is creating an environment “hostile” to Christianity.

During last week’s broadcast of Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson, FRC president Tony Perkins joined a discussion over the Air Force Academy’s apology for promoting participation in the Operation Christmas Child program conducted by Samaritan's Purse. Host James Dobson said he suspected that the Obama administration influenced the apology (though he suggested he had no proof of this). Perkins said the President disrespected Christianity:

I have no doubt, as you look back over the last two and a half of years of this administration, that the President has used his bully pulpit—he has done public policy but beyond the public policy that he’s pushed for—that it's created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity. And we’re seeing this played out all across this culture. And the courts have been emboldened by this. And now you see the military doing it as well. There’s no end to this as long as you have someone who is the Commander-in-Chief, who is the president of this country that has a disdain for Christianity.

Alliance Defense Fund president Alan Sears and American Values president Gary Bauer joined Perkins on Dobson's show.

Continue reading Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity...

November 2, 2011

Obama Spokesman on Jobs: Bible Phrase Is 'The Lord Helps Those Who Helps Themselves'

President Barack Obama noted in speech today that the House ignored his jobs bill but passed legislation yesterday affirming that “In God We Trust” is the U.S. national motto.

“That’s not putting people back to work,” the president said in Virginia today. “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”

As a follow-up to his speech, press secretary Jay Carney was asked by a reporter, “Isn’t it a bit much to bring God into the jobs debate?”

“Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, 'The Lord helps those who help themselves,’” Carney said at the White House daily news briefing. "And I think the point the President is making is that we should — we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people."

The White House noted later in the transcript "The Lord helps those who help themselves" is a "common phrase" and does not appear in the Bible. Many Christians cringe at the saying, suggesting that it diminishes the idea of grace. One's need for salvation rests on his or her dependence on God, evangelical theologians would likely argue.

Obama raised the issue of jobs when he met with members of the National Association of Evangelicals executive board last month. A source close to the president sent CT the following statement:

"The President was likely making the simple point that Congress should focus on helping those in need and putting people back to work; he’s done more to engage people of faith than any Democrat in recent memory. Those making hay out of this are just attempting to rile the faith community, they don’t genuinely think the Administration was being disrespectful."

Continue reading Obama Spokesman on Jobs: Bible Phrase Is 'The Lord Helps Those Who Helps Themselves'...

September 28, 2011

Obama Heckled as 'Anti-Christ,' Affirms 'Jesus Christ is Lord' (Video)

A heckler interrupted President Obama's fundraising event in Los Angeles Monday night with calls that Obama was "an anti-Christ."  The heckler, identified as David Serrano, stood just feet in front of the president. The Secret Service quickly removed him. The episode, however, gave Obama one more opportunity to restate his Christian beliefs.

Serrano interrupted Obama's introductory remarks at the fundraiser. "Jesus Christ is the one and only true and living God, the creator of the heavens and the universe," Serrano said. "Jesus Christ is God. Jesus Christ is God. You are [the] anti-Christ." 

Obama did respond immediately to Serrano, who chanted "Jesus Christ is God" while the Secret Service escorted him out of the crowd.

“First of all, I agree that Jesus Christ is the Lord. I believe in that,” Obama said. He then pointed out that the man may have left his jacket. Whether this was a concern for security or an attempt to "give him his cloak also," Obama insisted the man take his coat with him. That is, until a woman said it was her jacket.
The president then returned to his speech.  "All right, where was I? It is good to be back in L.A," Obama said.

Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, told the New York Daily News that Serrano is not new to local political events. He frequently interrupts public meetings with similar statements.

"He yells out his statements, which are very mistaken, odd interpretations of scriptures. He's been pretty close to being thrown out of our meetings," Bell said. “He's not a pleasant guy. He talks about Jews in his diatribes and seems very anti-Semitic. I don't have the impression he's dangerous, but he has issues that could use some help.”

Serrano's heckles did not come cheap. The 1,000 attendees paid $250 to $10,000 to hear Obama give a campaign speech at the L.A. House of Blues. Serrano has been released by the Secret Services without charges.

September 13, 2011

State Dept. Chides Eight Countries on Religious Freedom

The State Department on Tuesday designated eight nations as the most serious violators of religious freedom, naming the same countries as the Bush administration.

The list of "Countries of Particular Concern" includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan; all but Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan also received sanctions.

While Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued previous reports on religious freedom, Tuesday's report represented the first time the Obama administration has published its list of the world's worst violators.

The mid-year report focused mostly on problems and progress during the second half of 2010. But it also included more recent developments, including the assassinations of prominent critics of Pakistan's blasphemy law and the bombing of a church in Egypt that killed 22 people and injured about 100 more.

"It is our core conviction that religious tolerance is one of the essential elements not only of a sustainable democracy but of a peaceful society that respects the rights and dignity of each individual," Clinton told reporters at a press briefing.

Continue reading State Dept. Chides Eight Countries on Religious Freedom...

September 7, 2011

Evangelicals Left Off 9/11 Memorial Events

Two high-profile memorial services for September 11 have drawn protests from faith leaders and religious organizations who have objected that an event plans de-emphasize the role that Christians played in the aftermath of the attacks.

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President Obama will attend an event at the Washington National Cathedral on the evening of September 11 where he will deliver remarks at what appears to be a more secular service but is expected to include some form of benediction.

A 9/11 interfaith prayer vigil at the Cathedral earlier in the day will include Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III, Bishop of Washington John Bryson Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche of Tibet, Buddhist nun and incarnate lama, Dr. D.C. Rao, a representative of the Hindu and Jain faiths and Imam Mohamed Magid.

A representative of the Southern Baptist Convention pointed out that the list of prayer participants does not include any evangelicals. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, protested that for a church service, the line-up seemed better suited for a meeting of the United Nations.


According to Richard Weinberg, the National Cathedral’s director of communications, the choice of participants emphasized diversity in order to “appeal to as many in the country as possible.”

“The Cathedral itself is an Episcopal church and it stands to reason that our own clergy serve as Christian representatives,” he told Fox News Radio.

In comparison, on Sept. 14, 2001, evangelist Billy Graham spoke at the National Cathedral, speaking explicitly of Jesus on the cross as the comfort in a time of great need.

New York City’s 9/11 memorial ceremony at Ground Zero, which both Obama and former President George W. Bush plan to attend, does not include any members of the clergy. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) wrote to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to request that prayer be included in the event.

"On September 11, 2001, our nation prayed," wrote Forbes, who is co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. "And on September 11, 2011, our nation will pray once again."

Continue reading Evangelicals Left Off 9/11 Memorial Events ...

August 24, 2011

VP Joe Biden Stirs Debate on China's One-Child Policy

Vice President Joe Biden in China last weekend prompted renewed controversy over China's one-child policy, in remarks that seemed to condone the government rule.

"Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family," Biden told a crowd Sunday at Sichuan University, the keynote speech of his four-day trip to China.

Condemnation of Biden's remarks came swiftly from human rights groups and the pro-life sector, as well as from several political leaders. Many perceived Biden's comment as a softening of the U.S. diplomatic stance toward China's policy, which mandates that most families limit themselves to only one child and prioritizes male children above female.


Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser called the remark “pandering” on the SBA List blog. “Vice President Biden should be doing much more than second guessing the policy, he should be outright condemning it,” Dannenfelser said.

Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff sought to clarify Biden’s comment in a statement reported by the conservative news site The Daily Caller on Tuesday evening. “The vice president believes [China’s coercive birth limitation policies] practices are repugnant,” she said.

Biden's remarks came in response to a question about U.S. debt. Biden compared the U.S. “baby boom” to China's one-child policy in that both have created an unsustainable problem. "The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people,” Biden explained to the Chinese audience.

“He was arguing against the one-child policy to a Chinese audience,” Barkoff explained in the statement. “[Biden] also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable.”

Continue reading VP Joe Biden Stirs Debate on China's One-Child Policy ...

July 25, 2011

Obama Keeps Status Quo for Religious Hiring

President Obama suggested recently that he does not plan to change an executive order that permits some faith-based organizations that receive federal funding to discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs. The comments appear to be the first Obama has made on the issue since his presidency.

A Maryland town hall attendee who works for Secular Coalition for America asked Obama about statements he made as a candidate in 2008 when he said, "If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion."

Obama said said something similar in his remarks Friday. “It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and - or religious affiliation,” he said.

But Obama also appeared to suggest that he does not plan to rescind an executive order that states that that while federally-funded religious organizations cannot discriminate against beneficiaries, they “may retain religious terms in its organization's name, select its board members on a religious basis, and include religious references in its organization's mission statements and other chartering or governing documents.”

Obama appeared to maintain the status quo.

“I think that the balance we’ve tried to strike is to say that if you are offering - if you have set up a nonprofit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the non-discrimination hiring practices,” he said. “If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith.”
Organizations like the ACLU called on the president to rescind the executive order last month while several faith-based groups responded with a letter to Obama.

In 2009, the Obama administration decided to delay a decision on whether religious groups who hire based on the religious background of job applicant can receive federal funding.

July 21, 2011

Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget

The President endorses message of reducing deficit while protecting the poor.

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At a White House meeting with Christian leaders, President Obama endorsed the goal of reducing the federal deficit without harming those most in need. The leaders represented the Circle of Protection, a diverse, non-partisan coalition that represents evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian groups.

"The President embraced the principle that as we work on deficit reduction the poor should be protected," said National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) vice president Galen Carey, who attended the meeting.

The meeting with Obama came after several meetings between the Circle and high level White House staff. Those meetings included discussions of specific policies, but the Circle wanted to meet with the President because they wanted him to better articulate the need to protect programs for those in poverty.

The 40 minute meeting Wednesday afternoon included only a dozen of the members of the Circle. Evangelicals in attendance included the NAE's Carey, Salvation Army national commander William Roberts, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, and Sojourners president Jim Wallis (see full list at the end of this post).

For Rodriguez, the timing of the meeting was "divinely ordained." The meeting was announced on Monday. On Tuesday, the so-called "Gang of Six" in the Senate announced that there had been a breakthrough in bipartisan negotiations over the debt limit and the deficit. Their proposal would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes both spending cuts and increases in tax revenue. The President met with the Circle on Wednesday. After a discussion and a prayer, Obama left the meeting to attend meetings with congressional leaders on the budget. According to Rodriguez, the Circle expects to hold a public event with the President in the future.

Continue reading Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget...

May 23, 2011

Obama's Israel Borders Speech Becomes Fodder in GOP Primary

President Obama's speech on the Middle East included a call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that should be negotiated around the 1967 borders. The new position (which may or may not be all that new) was quickly decried as anti-Israel by candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

In his speech, Obama said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their full potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

The reaction to the statement was swift among the GOP's presidential hopefuls. Mitt Romney said “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.” Tim Pawlenty called Obama's statement “a mistaken and very dangerous demand.”

But perhaps the quickest move came from possible nominee Michelle Bachman conducted 150,000 robocalls into Iowa and South Carolina and put out an internet campaign on twitter, Facebook, and ads linking to her website's petition to tell Obama, “You've Betrayed Israel.”

On her Facebook page, Bachmann said, “Today President Barack Obama has again indicated that his policy towards Israel is to blame Israel first…President Obama has initiated a policy which shows contempt for Israel’s concern and safety. In an era dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’ we have seen increased volatility in the Middle East region, and President Obama has only added to the heightened hostility by calling on Israel to return to the 1967 borders. I disagree with President Obama and I stand with our friend Israel 100 percent.”

Continue reading Obama's Israel Borders Speech Becomes Fodder in GOP Primary...

May 20, 2011

Obama's Middle East Speech Nods to Bush Doctrine?

President Obama delivered quite an important speech yesterday on the Middle East and North Africa. Here's one key idea:

"It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."

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As I heard that and later read over the entire speech, I asked myself: Is there a single sentence in the entire speech that former President Bush would not have said? I struggled to find one. This means President Obama, when it comes to the Middle East and North Africa, is restating past US policy, including the so-called "Bush Doctrine."

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, makes this association powerfully in his commentary today interjecting quotes from the speech itself:

… Barack Obama openly, unreservedly and without a trace of irony or self-reflection [is adopting] the Bush Doctrine, which made the spread of democracy the key U.S. objective in the Middle East.

"Too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people's grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills."

Continue reading Obama's Middle East Speech Nods to Bush Doctrine?...

May 12, 2011

Obama Calls Immigration Reform a 'Moral Imperative' at National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

President Obama continued his call for immigration reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast this morning, a similar call he made two years ago at the same breakfast.

Obama highlighted the work of faith leaders, including the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), on immigration.

That sense of connection, that sense of empathy, that moral compass, that conviction of what is right is what led the National Association of Evangelicals to shoot short films to help people grasp the challenges facing immigrants. It’s what led the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch a Justice for Immigrants campaign, and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition to advocate across religious lines. It’s what led all the Latino pastors at the Hispanic Prayer Breakfast to come together around reform.

Obama was likely referring to undocumented.tv, videos produced by World Relief, the relief and humanitarian arm of the NAE. He argued that immigration is not only an economic or security imperative.

It’s a moral imperative when kids are being denied the chance to go to college or serve their military because of the actions of their parents. It’s a moral imperative when millions of people live in the shadows and are made vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses or with nowhere to turn if they are wronged. It’s a moral imperative when simply enforcing the law may mean inflicting pain on families who are just trying to do the right thing by their children.

So, yes, immigration reform is a moral imperative, and so it’s worth seeking greater understanding from our faith. As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” To me, that verse is a call to show empathy to our brothers and our sisters; to try and recognize ourselves in one another.

The Rev. Luis Cortes, Jr., president of Esperanza, the organization sponsoring the event, gave him a Bible before Obama's speech.

"I was told this will help improve my Spanish," Obama said to laughter. "And I said, 'I’ll pray on it.'"

April 29, 2011

Are White House Easter Controversies Just Rotten Eggs?

A few conservative activists accuse Obama of intentionally ignoring Easter, while others are taking issue with his choice of church. Last week, President Obama hosted the second annual Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House. On Easter, President and his family attended Easter services at historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. Monday featured the annual White House Easter Roll. But in today's political climate, even Easter can be controversial.

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When a member of the White House press corp asked on Monday why the president did not issue an Easter proclamation, Jay Carney said that Obama and his family went to church to celebrate Easter, but he was unsure if a proclamation was sent out.

For the American Family Association (AFA) the lack of an official proclamation was “an intentional act of disrespect.”  The AFA said he ignored Easter, but “he has released statements in honor of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha, holidays which most Americans cannot pronounce and certainly do not celebrate.” The AFA encouraged people to send an e-mail to the president over the issue.

The lack of proclamation was featured in a Fox News story that was subsequently picked up by the  Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which referenced it on Twitter: “The White House failed to release a statement recognizing the national observance of #Easter or Good Friday. http://ow.ly/4Hoo8 @foxnews"

While the White House did not issue a proclamation, it did host an Easter prayer breakfast April 19 with around 130 Christian leaders in attendance. Obama initiated the prayer breakfast last year.  In his remarks at the breakfast, Obama explained the purpose for the breakfast and the importance of Easter:

"I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason -– because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection -- something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective," Obama said. "…And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world -- past, present and future -- and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection."

The Family Research Council FRC noted that the group of clergy included clergy from “non-traditional groups, among them clergy from homosexual and pro-homosexual denominations, one considered a forerunner in shaping homosexual theology.” 

In a very different take on the breakfast, ThinkProgress.com criticized the breakfast for featuring two prominent “anti-LGBT pastors,” Bishop T.D. Jakes and Pastor Tim Keller, who “preach that homosexuality is among the sins for which individuals should seek repentance.”

Continue reading Are White House Easter Controversies Just Rotten Eggs?...

April 19, 2011

Keller, Jakes Among Obama's Prayer Breakfast Guests

President Obama spoke of the “grace” demonstrated by the resurrection at the Easter prayer breakfast Tuesday morning in the East Room of the White House.

Pastor Tim Keller of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Bishop T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Texas also spoke at the event. The breakfast is a “good excuse to bring together people who have been such extraordinary influences in my life and such great friends,” the president said in his opening remarks. Keller’s attendance was his first visit to the White House.

Other guests also included Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Suzan Johnson Cook, the president’s recently confirmed ambassador of international religious freedom, and faith leaders from Protestant, Catholic, and other religious groups. North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson were among participants in a list provided by the White House.

The president noted recent storms that have swept North Carolina, specifically pointing out Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and his wife, Dee, who “will be helping those communities rebuild after the devastation.” He also singled out USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah for his work with faith leaders.

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Obama acknowledged the “hustle and bustle” as the “inbox keeps accumulating,” to a chuckling audience. Easter puts everything into perspective, the president said. “Everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways,” he said. “And I admit that my plate has been full as well.”

But Holy Week is a reminder of God’s grace, Obama said after reading Isaiah 53:5. “This ‘Amazing Grace’ calls me to pray,” he said. “It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … his Son and our Savior.”

Over a breakfast of mini foods—including mini yogurt parfaits, muffins and bagels—attendees also heard prayer from Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie and the Rev. Sharon Watkins and performances by the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of Gospel Choir and gospel singer Wintley Phipps.

“You notice that these days prayers are on an iPad,” the president said, pointing out the Apple device when he introduced Bishop McKenzie for the opening prayer. McKenzie thanked God for Easter as the “reversal of Good Friday” in her prayer.

The breakfast was hosted on the Tuesday before Easter in order to avoid conflict with Holy Week services, a White House official said. Joshua DuBois, the head of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, opened the event with a short guest list and limited press coverage.

The president said that he plans to make the event, now in its second year, “annual” from now on. “The Easter Egg Roll, that’s well established,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. Last year, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the breakfast.

March 18, 2011

Poll: Growing Public Approval of Gay Marriage

The House of Representatives picks up defense of DOMA.

A new ABC-Washington Post poll finds that, for the first time, a majority of Americans now believe that same-sex marriages should be legal. The poll finds 53 percent think “it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married.” About 45 percent said it should be illegal.

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The survey also finds that most Americans hold strong views on the issue. Just over a third—36 percent—feel strongly that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 35 percent strongly think that it should be illegal. As late as 2006, a majority strongly opposed it.

The survey's results reflect findings by other surveys that find increasing support for allowing gay marriage. Last year's surveys by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (Pew) found, that for the first time, less than 50 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage. Only 48 percent oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.” However, only 42 percent favor gay marriage in the Pew polls.

Pew also finds a majority of evangelicals remain opposed to same-sex marriage, with 72 percent of white evangelicals stating that it should be illegal. 62 percent of black Protestants also oppose gay marriage. Mainline Protestants support gay marriage. In 2008-2009, 40 percent of mainline Protestants approved of gay marriage. In 2010, 48 percent think gay marriage should be legal.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson is one of several evangelical leaders who are lobbying Congress to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court. In February, the Obama administration informed Congress that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in some federal lawsuits.

Anderson said that the NAE disagreed with Obama's decision. “We hope that Congress will hire its own lawyers to vigorously defend DOMA in federal courts,” said Anderson. “Marriage is foundational to a healthy society in which children enjoy the care and nurture of both their mother and father. Radically redefining marriage will have a far-reaching impact on the health of our nation.”

Last week, the leaders in the House of Representatives decided to defend DOMA in court. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts—not by the president unilaterally—and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins commended the Speaker's position while also accusing the president of violating his constitutional oath.

"We thank Speaker Boehner for working to protect the rule of law and the institution of marriage,” said Perkins. “The Speaker is sending a bold message that Congress will not stand idly while the President picks and chooses which laws will be nullified by Executive Branch surrender to antagonistic litigants.”

In general, the administration defends U.S. law even when it goes against White House policy positions. However, presidents are not bound to defend laws that it determines are violations of the U.S. Constitution. Though extremely rare, previous presidents have also chosen to not defend a law.

Continue reading Poll: Growing Public Approval of Gay Marriage...

March 17, 2011

Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama continues to campaign for her “Let's Move” initiative, which aims to help parents and caregivers decrease childhood obesity in the United States. Over the last three decades, the level of obesity double among preschool children and tripled for school aged children, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly one in five school-aged children are obese.

Some conservatives, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have criticized Obama’s effort as a big-government solution. However, other Republican leaders, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, defended the First Lady's efforts saying that the public should work to decrease childhood obesity rates.

A February 22-March 1 poll suggested that evangelicals were suspicious of government efforts on childhood obesity. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 1,504 adults, “Should government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?” Among evangelicals, 56 percent said that government should not have a significant role. Among non-evangelicals, 35 percent said this.

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Evangelicals composed the only religious tradition that had a majority saying government should not play a significant role on this issue. Mainline Protestants were split over the question but leaned toward a stronger government role. A vast majority of Catholics, Black Protestants, and those with no religion said government should have a significant role to play.

Whether this means that a majority of evangelicals would side with Palin over Huckabee on the issue depends on what is meant by a “significant role” for government. Both Huckabee and Obama said that parents are responsible for children, but that government can provide information to help them.

Huckabee interviewed Michelle Obama on his February 21 Fox News show. He asked Obama about criticisms by some that her proposals were going to lead to a nanny-state.

"I’ve spoken to a lot of experts about this issue, and the one thing that they haven’t said is that government telling people what to do is the answer. This is not government intervention," said Obama. "This is not an initiative that is about telling people what to do. It’s giving people the tools to make the decisions that make sense for them."

>After the interview, Huckabee said he angered some conservatives by having the First Lady on his show. Speaking to talk show host Sean Hannity, Huckabee said that he disagrees with the administration on many issues but not the efforts to curb childhood obesity.

“No doubt [President Obama is] way left of you and me. No doubt about that. But, on this issue, I think the first lady is right,” said Huckabee. “And she is not taking a leftist position on it. And the conservatives are going to immediately say, 'Oh, we're against this.' They need to listen and be part of the solution.”

Huckabee is not new to the issue of obesity—personally or politically. As governor of Arkansas, he made national news for losing over 100 pounds and implementing policies designed to improve childhood nutrition. During his time in office Arkansas was the only state to reduce its level of childhood obesity, Huckabee says.

Continue reading Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity...

February 24, 2011

If Obama Won't Fight Gay Marriage, Conservatives Will

If President Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice no longer want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from challenges by gay rights activists, who will?

Leading conservative law firms say they're eager to defend the 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that may not be so easy.

Could a conservative firm like Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group that often opposes the administration, be the stand-in for the U.S. attorney general before a judge hearing DOMA challenges?

"That's what we're pursuing," said Mathew Staver, founder of the firm and dean of Liberty University School of Law. "Somebody has to step in and do the job when the attorney general and the president will abandon theirs."

Liberty Counsel had filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two DOMA court cases and is now strategizing with members of Congress to intervene on their behalf to defend the law that bans federal
recognition of same-sex marriages.

"It's early in the process," said Staver, whose firm has litigated dozens of cases related to marriage -- including DOMA -- and represented Congress, state legislators and private organizations on other issues.

"We're still doing a lot of preliminary discussion."

Staver and other conservative lawyers have harshly criticized the announcement Wednesday (Feb. 23) by Attorney General Eric Holder that Obama had determined that DOMA is unconstitutional when applied to same-sex couples married legally under state law.

Last month, the Alliance Defense Fund submitted a brief on behalf of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in response to a Massachusetts challenge of DOMA being heard in a federal appeals court. Now it could be turning its attention to the cases in Connecticut and New York that prompted the administration's new decision.

"I have no doubt that the Alliance Defense Fund and other organizations will involve themselves in these cases," said Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based firm. "The question is what is going to be the nature of the role. If somebody with (legal) standing to intervene in these cases wants ADF to represent them, we will certainly explore that with them."

California's Proposition 8 -- which ended same-sex marriages in the state but was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge -- offers some clues to the road ahead.

The ADF is representing the group ProtectMarriage.com to defend the 2008 voter referendum after the state's governor and attorney general opted not to defend it; the California Supreme Court is weighing whether the group has legal standing to step in as the case heads to a federal
appeals court.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, also is mulling its role in the fight over DOMA.

Continue reading If Obama Won't Fight Gay Marriage, Conservatives Will ...

February 23, 2011

Obama: DOMA Unconstitutional; Justice Dept. Reverses Course

President Obama has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and has asked his Justice Department to stop defending it in court. DOMA defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The Justice Department just released the following statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Update: In December 2010, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell," a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. During his campaign, Obama supported the repeal of DOMA, a bill that President Clinton had signed into law in 1996. In October, Obama said his views on same-sex marriage were evolving.

The New York Times reports on how the development to reverse course took place.

The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.

Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.

February 18, 2011

Obama Admin. Changes Bush 'Conscience' Provision for Health Workers

The Obama administration has changed a George W. Bush provision that was created to allow health workers to opt out of services they find objectionable on religious grounds, Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports. The change maintains the provision that allows workers to refrain from performing abortions.

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women.

Calling the Bush-era rule "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope," the new, much narrower version essentially leaves in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the Bush rule's formal process for workers to file complaints.

President Bush had announced the provision, supported by the Christian Medical Association (CMA), just before leaving office. Before he took office, Obama had expressed objections to the provision.

The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement:

The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. Strong conscience laws make it clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion. Many of these strong conscience laws have been in existence for more than 30 years. The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process.

Dr. J. Scott Ries, CMA's vice president, said in a statement that the decision "threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care."

The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification. The administration presented no evidence of any problems in healthcare access, prescriptions or procedures that have occurred in the two years since the original regulation's enactment that would justify any change in this protective regulation.

The executive order puts the burden back on Congress to enact conscience provisions for health care workers. HR 358, the Protect Life Act, (see Tuesday's post) includes language identical to that found in Bush's executive order.

The House is expected to vote today on whether Planned Parenthood should receive federal funds. CT will be posting a story on evangelicals' attitudes towards the federal budget shortly.

(This post has been updated at 1:30 p.m.)

February 9, 2011

Michelle Obama Marks Campaign Anniv. at Andy Stanley's Megachurch

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at one of the country's largest megachurches to mark the one-year anniversary of Let's Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity.

North Point Community Church, a nondenominational evangelical church of more than 20,000 hosted the speech with Ray of Hope Christian Church, an Atlanta-based African American church.

North Point's head pastor Andy Stanley, 52, gave one of the prayers at the prayer service the day after President Obama's inauguration. The White House's press release calls Stanley "a young and rising leader in the evangelical community." His father is Charles Stanley, who served two terms as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

In late 2010, the campaign against obesity has set off some partisan debate. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin joked about the program while Mike Huckabee defended it.

Michelle Obama has reached out the faith leaders through conference calls and meetings, asking them to educate congregants about healthy eating. Her speech was not particularly religious, like the one President Obama gave last week at the prayer breakfast. Instead, it seemed like a fairly general pitch on promoting healthy lifestyle with a brief mention of faith communities.

"We need to change things not just from the outside, but from the inside as well. We need to ask ourselves, 'What can I do, through my workplace, my place of worship, my organization, to help kids in my community lead healthier lives?'" she said in her speech. "And how about getting your church or place of worship involved? That’s what we’re doing through Let’s Move Faith and Communities, we’re supporting faith leaders who want to build healthier congregations."

February 8, 2011

Consumer Protection Chief Seeks Allies in Faith Leaders

The architect of the Obama administration's new consumer protection bureau met with faith-based groups February 8 in a bid to shape the agency's work as a moral crusade.

"The most recent financial crisis caused many to question the moral underpinnings of our financial dealings with each other," Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard University law professor who was appointed last year to start the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Our laws reflect who we are and they shape who we become. To pursue regulatory change without reflecting on its moral dimension would be wrong," she said.

Warren met Tuesday with about 20 Christian and Jewish religious leaders to get their input on focusing the bureau's work, and to hear stories of how the financial crisis has affected their communities.

Her meeting included representatives of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Sojourners and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

A former Sunday school teacher and a United Methodist, Warren said moral and religious traditions have long informed rules about fair lending. "The Bible speaks about not cheating people," she said.

She hopes the bureau's fledgling partnership with religious leaders will eventually extend from the pulpits to the pews to educate Americans on how to avoid becoming victims of risky financial schemes.

"They're not merely passers-along of information," she said. "These are people who have thought deeply about a financial crisis that has moral and spiritual dimensions. I want this agency to be informed by the deeper thinking that they've brought to these issues."

February 8, 2011

Obama's Faith-Based Council Includes Leith Anderson, Lynne Hybels

The president's advisory council on faith-based initiatives is supposed to represent a wide spectrum of religious and community leaders. This includes a fair share of evangelicals, albeit evangelicals of a certain kind.

Last week, the White House announced that Willow Creek Community Church co-founder Lynne Hybels and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson would serve on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Members serve one-year terms.

The choice of Hybels and Anderson follows in the line of previous evangelical council members. They are bona fides evangelicals who prefer to engage the culture, not war against it. Recently, both Hybels and Anderson spoke publicly in favor of immigration reform, actively lobbying Congress for reforms including a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

In addition to being president of the NAE, Anderson serves as Senior Pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which is the church home of Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty.

CBN's David Brody interviewed Pawlenty in December about Anderson's connection to Pawlenty's politics. “He’s a wonderful person and a dear leader and minister but neither he nor [the NAE] is some sort of plug and play political operation. That’s not how he views it,” said Pawlenty. “He’s in the business of saving souls and he’s not in the business of running campaigns.” (CT also recently interviewed Pawlenty about evangelicals and political issues).

Hybels has been involved in Willow Creek's ministries and has spoken out on issues including poverty and HIV/AIDS. She also occasionally blogs for Sojourners God's Politics blog.

The advisory council continues Obama's approach to faith-based groups. It is unlikely, however, to end the controversies that have dogged the office since President George W. Bush began his Faith-Based and Community Initiative office in 2001. During the Bush administration, critics charged that the office was politicized and entangled religion with government. The goal of the office was to place religious groups on the same level playing field as secular nonprofits. Bush also allowed religious groups receiving federal funds to use religion as a basis for hiring.

When Obama set up his Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the goal changed from funding projects to making policy. The president charged the office with developing policy recommendations aimed at improving interfaith relationships, strengthening fatherhood, reducing poverty, and lowering the number of abortions. Obama's first advisory council focused much of its efforts on making policy recommendations about the office itself. It did not, however, remedy three of the thorniest issues facing faith and policy.

– Should religious groups form separate nonprofits when they compete for federal funds?

– Should nonprofits remove religious art and messages from facilities that provide social services?

– Should religious nonprofits receiving federal funds be permitted to hire and fire employees based on their religion?

The answers to these questions remain unanswered as Obama's second council begins its work.

Continue reading Obama's Faith-Based Council Includes Leith Anderson, Lynne Hybels...

February 3, 2011

Obama, Wallace, Giffords's Husband, Chilean Miner Lead Prayer Breakfast

WASHINGTON -- President Obama used his address at today's National Prayer Breakfast to reiterate his Christian faith, re-telling the story of his nonreligious upbringing and conversion to Christianity.

“My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time,” Obama said. “We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God.”

Previous polls have suggested that about 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.

Last year, Obama's speech emphasized civility, finding common ground guided by faith. "Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility," he said in 2010. Obama introduced the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at his first prayer breakfast in 2009. Michael Scherer of Time magazine notes that in 2009, Obama used "I" 15 times, in 2010, he used "I" 10 times, and this year, he said "I" 44 times.

Obama said earlier that he has chosen not to join a church, though a White House spokesman Kevin Lewis recently told The Washington Post, "We will be sure to confirm when they have made a decision on a church home," Lewis said after the Obamas visited Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in January.

The White House has instead focused on the relationships Obama has with several pastors and a daily devotional he receives on his Blackberry. In his speech today, Obama said that Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and Texas megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes pray with him in the Oval Office, and that he receives "respite and fellowship" in the chapel at Camp David. White House staffer Joshua DuBois also sends Obama a meditation each morning.

"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people," Obama said. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord."

Obama also plugged Charity: Water and its founder, Scott Harrison, saying, "That's the kind of faith that moves mountains."

He also threw in a few jokes for the audience. "Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance where there will be boys," he said to laughter. "Lord, let that skirt become longer as she travels to that dance."

He joked about telling Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla., who is a Southern Baptist deacon) that God would lead him to vote Obama's way. "It is comforting to know people are praying for you who don't always agree with you," he said. "Tom, It's gonna happen. A ray of light is going to beam down."

At the beginning of his speech, Obama briefly addressed the protests in Egypt, saying, "We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world."

Braveheart writer and director of Secretariat Randall Wallace was the breakfast's keynote speaker, telling the audience when he was out of work during the Writers Guild strike. “I prayed that if I go down in this fight that I not do it on my knees to someone else, but standing up with my flag flying,” Wallace said, which inspired a Braveheart scene.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined last year's speech, while former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke in 2009.

One of the rescued Chilean miners, Jose Henriquez, spoke of the spiritual climate while they were trapped underground for 52 days in 2010. "We decided unless we prayed and God did a miracle there would be no way out," he said. "And that became our daily hope and confidence." He said each miner received a small Bible with his name on it while they were underground. He gathered the miners to pray just before they were rescued. “Some wanted to dive in and get in the capsule but I said, 'Hold it. Were going to pray first.' ”

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, offered some closing words. While his wife was in the hospital in Tucson, Kelly said he visited a makeshift memorial with religious symbols, saying that "it was like stepping into a church, a place with heaven itself as its ceiling."

Kelly closed the breakfast with a prayer a rabbi had given over Giffords's hospital bed just after the shooting asking that angels would surround her. Giffords was among 19 people shot on January 8.

The text of the speech will be posted below when it becomes available from the White House.

January 28, 2011

Abortion: Not Part of the State of the Union, Responses

Presidents have often included some mention of abortion in their State of the Union addresses. This week, President Obama broke from this tradition.

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His speech on Tuesday featured both big ideas and specific policy proposals. It did not, however, include any nod to pro-choice groups.


Abortion was notably absent Republicans' responses, too. The official Republican response by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) only alluded to abortion when he said that one responsibility of government was "to protect innocent life."  He did not reference any specific policies.


Tea party leader Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), who is pro-life, also remained mum on the issue during her alternative GOP response to the SOTU.


Ashley Horne of Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink said, “What I would have loved to see was the GOP to give a little more attention to the life issue. The GOP rode in on a wave of pro-life voters. This is why they're here. Pro-family, pro-life voters, the conservative movement ushered them in. And for good reason."


The House of Representatives is expected to take up several pro-life bills, including the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. This bill would permanently ban the prohibition against using federal funding to pay for abortions. Currently, the ban must be renewed each year, and the ban on federal funding for last year's health care law is an executive order.


Continue reading Abortion: Not Part of the State of the Union, Responses...

January 18, 2011

Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant

Also, Open Doors USA gives Barbara Boxer the second highest score in the Senate for sponsoring religious freedom legislation.

No one leads the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) after two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The IRF vacancy demonstrates the low priority currently placed on religious freedom even though there is nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for international religious freedom in Congress.

Obama did not send a nomination to the Senate until June 2010, nominating Suzan Johnson Cook, a pastor long on religion but short on international human rights. The Senate then failed to act. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not hold a hearing on the nomination until November and the Senate never voted on the nomination. Senator DeMint (R-SC) put a hold on the nomination, effectively vetoing it, according to Samuel G. Freedman of the New York Times. As a result, the office remains vacant for the foreseeable future.

“The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom,” Thomas Farr, the first director of the IRF, wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Farr said that the IRF office has been “emasculated” because the office is not treated like similar offices and no longer has the same staff reporting to it as in earlier administrations.

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Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for the religious freedom of Christians, examined congressional officials who lead the fight for international religious freedom by evaluating who sponsored legislation. Leaders come from both the right and left, Republicans and Democrats. Open Doors gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) the second highest score in the Senate. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also received high marks for their advocacy work.

The new 112th Congress may be less active on religious freedom issues because of important changes in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) was the key leader on the issue, but he left the Senate to become governor of Kansas. Sen. Kaufman (D-DE) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) are also not returning.

Continue reading Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant...

January 14, 2011

Putting Faith Over Politics after Tucson Tragedy

Speaking at a nationally televised memorial service Wednesday, President Obama focused on the legacies of those killed and wounded during the shooting Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. The President offered hope while acknowledging the reality of evil.

“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,” Obama said. “In the words of Job, 'When I looked for light, then came darkness.' Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”

Obama quoted from Psalm 46 when referring to Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who was meeting with her constituents when she was shot. "God is within her, she will not fall," Obama said. "God will help her at the break of day."

Obama referred to heaven when he spoke of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in the shooting. "If there are rain puddles in heaven," Obama said, "Christina is jumping in them today." Green attended St. Odilia Catholic Church in Tucson.

Obama's speech was praised by many—including conservatives and Republicans—as hitting the right tone and message for the event (see here for a list of comments by leading conservatives). American Family Association's Elijah Friedeman said, “It's rare that conservative pundits will give Obama kudos for a speech, but the consensus is virtually unanimous: Obama did a great job.” Daniel Burke of Religion News Service looked at how previous presidents have used Scripture in speeches after national tragedies.

Obama's words echoed sentiments expressed by other political leaders. Amidst chattering between pundits, most leaders have taken a break from politics as usual.

CitizenLink's vice president for external relations Tim Goeglin said, “Since the assassination attempt and the other killings, there has been a remarkable unity that has happened. It's as if politics, and maybe temporarily, has been transcended.”

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was with Giffords and her husband a week ago at the New Years Renaissance Weekend in South Carolina. She spoke on her contentious campaign fight last November. She is currently the only Democratic woman representing a Republican-leaning district.

Continue reading Putting Faith Over Politics after Tucson Tragedy...

January 10, 2011

State Department to Leave 'Mother' and Father' on Documents

Facing a backlash from conservative groups, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered changes to a proposal to remove the terms "mother" and "father" from records of overseas births.

"With Secretary Clinton's input, we will be revising the form to retain the existing designation of mother and father, in addition to the designation of parent," said Rosemary Macray, a spokeswoman for the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

The department had announced plans on Dec. 22 to change the Consular Report of Birth Abroad to "use the title of `parent' as opposed to 'mother' and 'father."'

"These improvements are being made to provide a gender-neutral description of a child's parents and in recognition of different types of families," it said at the time.

But after conservative Christian groups criticized the proposed change on Friday, Clinton issued new directives on Saturday.

"Only in the topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness could it be considered an `improvement' for a birth-related document to provide less information about the circumstances of that birth," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in a Friday
statement.

Macray said the specific language, which was still being revised, would be included in the overseas birth records as well as applications for passports for children and first-time adult applicants.

January 6, 2011

Obama Admin. Reverses Course on End-of-Life Provision

On New Year’s Day, the government implemented new Medicare fee policies for physicians including a “voluntary end-of-life care” provision that would reimburse doctors for advising patients on end-of-life care. The following Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the revised regulations would remove the provision, effectively halting renewed controversy almost before it began.

The controversy threatened to re-ignite shortly after a memo from the office of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) became public. (Blumenauer wrote the original end-of-life provision.) The memo celebrated the inclusion of the end-of-life provision in the Medicare regulations, which were released November 29 with little scrutiny. “The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it,” according to the memo. The memo advised proponents to keep the inclusion “quiet” in order to avoid “the ‘death panel’ myth.”

A similar provision was dropped from the health care reform bill before it passed in 2009. At the time, detractors such as Republican congressmen John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) protested funding end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients as the first step on a slippery slope toward “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Sarah Palin also stirred controversy over the end-of-life provision in the health care reform bill calling it a “death panel” mandate.

The National Right to Life Center indicated similar concerns with both versions of the provision. "The danger is that subsidized advance care planning will not just discover and implement patient treatment preferences but rather be used to nudge or pressure older people to agree to less treatment because that is less expensive," Burke Balch, director of NRLC's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said in a recent statement.

Opponents accused the Obama administration of achieving their goal to implement Medicare funding of end-of-life care through regulation rather than legislation. However, former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, an outspoken critic of end-of-life provisions in health legislation proposed in the early 1990s as well as 2009, drew a distinction between the Medicare funding policy and health care legislation. Medicare should provide reimbursement for voluntary end-of-life counseling, she said. "But government should never prescribe what is discussed between doctor and patient, or pressure doctors financially to push their patients into living wills and advanced directives.”

The proposed new Medicare rules released last July did not include the end-of-life provision. However, the provision was included in the policies as released November 29. “We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically,” an administration official said Tuesday.

The New York Times speculated that White House administrators did not want a “distraction” to their defense of health care reform laws from the incoming Republican majority in the House.

The House is expected to vote on a proposed repeal of the health care reform bill next week. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will introduce the repeal bill, which calls the 2009 health care reform bill a “job-killing health care law.” Republican leaders expect the repeal to pass the House, where they now hold the majority, but Democrats warn it will stall in the Senate.

December 29, 2010

Obama's Church Appearance Highlights Public Trend

President Obama attended church in Hawaii Sunday, continuing a trend of public expressions of his Christian faith in the past three months, argues Carol E. Lee in Politico.

Obama has publicly mentioned his “Christian faith” more times in the past three months than he has over the past year. He has more frequently cited passages of the Bible, including repeated references to the spirit of Genesis 4:9 — “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper” — which was a mainstay of Obama’s 2010 campaign stump speech. And he’s taken his family to church twice, a shift for a president who has preferred to worship privately since the end of the 2008 campaign.

As far as I can tell, the Obama family attends church mostly on holidays and special occasions. However, the family attended a church in September after polls suggested that at least 18 percent of Americans think he is a Muslim.

Adelle M. Banks noted a similar trend of faith as a public expression for Religion News Service.

When President Obama lit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House last year, he spoke of a “child born far from home” and said “while this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal.”

This year, Obama referenced that same “child born far from home,” but added a more personal twist: “It’s a story that’s dear to Michelle and me as Christians.”

Three days later, at a Christmas benefit concert, the president again talked about how the story of Christmas “guides my Christian faith.”

What changed? For one, three separate polls in the past year have found that one in four Americans think the president is a Muslim, 43 percent don’t know what faith he follows, and four in 10 Protestant pastors don’t consider Obama a Christian.

The AP reports that Obama attended a chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for a multi-denominational service. Obama has said that his family has not joined a church because appearances would be disruptive.

December 1, 2010

Judge Rejects Liberty's Health Care Lawsuit

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit from Liberty University that said the health care reform law is unconstitutional and would permit the religious institution’s insurance payments to cover abortions, Politico reports.

“The Act explicitly states that no plan is required to cover any form of abortion services,” Judge Norman K. Moon wrote in his order Monday.

The White House praised the ruling. “The judge’s ruling today only underscores the importance of the law’s individual responsibility provision,” Stephanie Cutter wrote in a White House blog post Tuesday.

More details come from the New York Times and Politico (blockquote below).

Liberty – and five individuals who joined the suit — also argued that the employer and individual coverage requirements are beyond Congress’s powers and violate the First, Fifth and Tenth amendments. The suit claimed that the law is an illegal direct tax, violates the Constitution’s promise of a republic form of government and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The university argued that it would face significant fines – of about $1.1 million— if the employer requirements are kept in place. The legislation requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance coverage to workers or face additional taxes.

The federal government countered that the university didn’t have a right to file the suit and that the issues aren’t ripe for trial.

Politico writes that oral arguments in the most high-profile case, a suit backed by 20 states and expected to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, are scheduled for December 16.

November 17, 2010

Obama Signs Order to Reform Faith-based Office

President Obama signed an executive order today that reforms the White House's faith-based office in a bid to improve transparency and clarify rules for religious groups that receive
federal grants.

The nine-page order reflects numerous recommendations made more than six months ago by a blue-ribbon advisory council charged with streamlining and reforming the office created under former President George W. Bush.

"The recommendations that they've put forth make really concrete and tangible improvements to the government's relationship with faith-based organizations," said Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The executive order, however, does not address controversial questions of whether grant recipients can hire and fire based on religion. Administration officials have said those questions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

DuBois and others said the new order gives better legal footing to public-private partnerships. "It ... clarifies that decisions about financial awards must be free from political interference or the
appearance thereof," DuBois said.

In particular, the order reflects the council's special concern about the treatment of people who receive social services from a religious group receiving federal funding.

"The government has a responsibility to give a referral to a nonreligious program if the beneficiary objects to the religious program they're in," DuBois said in explaining the order.

Melissa Rogers, who chaired the advisory council, said the order both continues and changes the work begun under Bush. For example, grant recipients may continue offering services in buildings containing religious symbols, but will be required to provide beneficiaries with written information about their rights.

"In the case of social service beneficiaries, that's been a real worry for many of us, that they might not know what their rights are," Rogers said.

Responding to recommendations for greater transparency, the order calls for agencies to post rules affecting religious organizations online, as well as lists of federal grant recipients.

Continue reading Obama Signs Order to Reform Faith-based Office ...

October 28, 2010

Obama: Same-sex Marriage Views Evolving

President Obama said to a group of liberal bloggers Wednesday that his views on same-sex marriage are evolving. Adam Smith of Time magazine suggests that Obama might be setting himself up for a "Clinton-esque shift" on the issue. Here's the transcript from Joe Sudbay:

I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.

But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships.

Obama addressed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that he's working to overturn. "I think 'don’t ask, don’t tell' is wrong," he said. "I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned."

The larger issue, he said, was the attitude that the LGBT has disillusionment and disappointment with Obama.

"I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history," he told a group of liberal bloggers. "I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history."

October 26, 2010

Survey: 6 in 10 Protestant Pastors Disapprove of Obama

Six out of every 10 Protestant pastors say they disapprove of President Obama's job performance, a LifeWay Research survey found.

Researchers said of the 61 percent who disapprove of Obama's work, 47 percent disapprove strongly.

The survey, released October 21, found that 30 percent of pastors approve of the president's performance (including 14 percent who strongly approve). Nine percent were undecided.

When the Southern Baptist-affiliated research group surveyed Protestant pastors about their voting intentions just before the 2008 elections, 20 percent indicated they planned to vote for Obama, compared to 55 percent who planned to vote for GOP candidate John McCain.

"If voting intentions and job approval measure similar things, the president hasn't made many friends in the pulpits of America's churches throughout the first year-and-a-half of his presidency," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

The new research was based on interviews with 1,000 Protestant clergy October 7-14 and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Researchers also found that 84 percent of Protestant pastors disagreed with the idea of pastors endorsing political candidates from the pulpit.

September 19, 2010

Obama Makes Rare Church Appearance

President Obama and his family attended St. John's Episcopal Church today, a rare appearance for the President who said earlier this year that his family has decided to not join a church because they are disruptive.

The Chicago Sun-Times says this visit is his sixth in D.C. since taking office. The church visit comes after the Pew Forum and others released polls that suggested that at least 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.

The White House released the following pool report about today's church visit.

The first family left the White House on foot this morning for the 9am choral holy eucharist service and sermon at St John's Church Lafayette Square.

The Obamas walked out of the residence at 8.49am and crossed the park to the nearby Episcopal church.

The president was wearing a dark suit and held Sasha Obama's hand. She was wearing a blue dress and cream cardigan. Michelle and Malia Obama were wearing cream-colored dresses. (Check photos for accuracy of descriptions. It's sunny and pool was at a distance.)

The service sheet doesn't indicate what the sermon is on but the gospel is Luke 16:1-13, which ends 'You cannot serve God and wealth.'

Update: The White House also released another pool report:

The sermon also included some reflections on the story as an example of how "Jesus has a sense of humor... he also likes to shock us" and the extent to which "everyone has cut a corner or two."

Revd. Leon said that for him, an example was accepting a good citizenship award and $50 from the DAR in Rome, Georgia, when he was graduating high school there. "Now the problem was, I wasn't a citizen," he said, prompting laughter from the congregation.

Revd. Leon also referenced "The Help", which he said he'd just finished reading, as an instance where three women in the 1960s south rise above what is expected of them by breaking the rules.

All four members of the family took communion when they went up to the altar.

Sitting with the first family was Joshua Dubois, head of the White House faith and neighborhood partnerships office.

POTUS appeared to share a joke with the rector while leaving the church.

Clothing clarification: First lady was wearing a white dress with flowered pattern and light-colored jacket over it. Malia Obama was wearing a blue dress with flowered pattern and light-colored jacket over it.

August 31, 2010

Poll: 24% Think Obama is a Muslim

Nearly a quarter of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim or a follower of Islam, according to a recent Newsweek poll. The poll, conducted August 25-26, suggests that 24 percent of Americans believe he is a Muslim, compared to 42 percent of respondents who believe he is a Christian.

Ten percent believe he was "something else" and 24 percent don't know. In April and June of 2008, a similar poll suggested that 13 percent of Americans believed that Obama is a Muslim.

"I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian," Obama told Christianity Today in 2008. "I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

A poll taken by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life before Obama's remarks related to the proposed mosque in New York City suggested that 18 percent believe he is a Muslim.

According to the latest Newsweek poll, 31 percent think it's definitely or probably true that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world."

President Obama told NBC's Brian Williams that there is a "network of misinformation" going on.

"I'm not gonna be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating on out there," Obama said Sunday. "If I spend all my time chasing after that, then I wouldn't get much done."

Regarding those who suggest Obama wasn't born in the United States, he said, "I can’t spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead."

Continue reading Poll: 24% Think Obama is a Muslim...

August 20, 2010

Franklin Graham: Obama born a Muslim, a Christian Now

Franklin Graham told CNN's John King that President Obama's family background is creating the perception that Obama is a Muslim.

"I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name," Graham said on CNN's "John King, USA."

"Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That is what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn't. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said," Graham continued.

This is what Obama wrote for Time in 2006 about his father's religious background.

My father was almost entirely absent from my childhood, having been divorced from my mother when I was 2 years old; in any event, although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist, thinking religion to be so much superstition.

CNN says it will fact check Rev. Franklin Graham's interview tonight and include comments from his opposition. A partial video is available below.

CNN analyst Roland Martin posted a few more quotes from Graham on his twitter feed:

"I wish the president, over the years, had had a chance to be involved in a real, strong Bible-teaching church."
"I don't think the Rev. Jeremiah's church was a place where he got a grounded in God's Word.
"It would have been better for him to get into a good evangelical church."

Martin thought Graham's view that Trinity under Jeremiah Wright was not Bible-believing was "amazing."

"Frankly, I'd rather hear from Anne Graham Lotz on this issue than her brother, Franklin Graham!" he wrote. "Truth be told, Anne Graham Lotz is a far stronger preacher and teacher than her brother ever will be! That's a preaching woman."

Tobin Grant has more on the Pew Forum poll that suggests that more Americans believe Obama is a Muslim than they previously did while the percentage of those who think he is a Christian has dropped.

April 30, 2010

Panel Faults Obama for Lagging on Religious Freedom

The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect religious freedoms abroad, the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said Thursday in its annual report to Congress and the White House.

"The problems are above and beyond what we saw last year, and the administration must do more," said Leonard Leo, chair of the commission, which was founded by Congress in 1998.

The commission named 13 "countries of particular concern" on religious freedom violations: Burma, North Korea, Nigeria, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The panel also named 12 countries to a second-tier "watch list" that deserve close monitoring by Washington: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela. India was the only new addition from last year.

Beyond the annual list of offenders, which has remained relatively stable in recent years, commissioners chided the Obama administration and U.S. diplomats for ignoring religion in foreign policy when so many conflicts find their roots -- or justification -- in religion.

"We're completely neglecting religious freedom in countries that tend to be Petri dishes for extremism," Leo said. "This invariably leads to trouble for us."

The commission brings attention to global "hot spots" where freedom of religion is threatened by state hostility, state-sponsored extremist ideology, or failure to protect human rights.

Commissioners said the issue of religious freedom has been, and continues to be, largely ignored. "Regrettably, this point seems to shrink year after year for the White House and State Department," Leo said.

Continue reading Panel Faults Obama for Lagging on Religious Freedom...

April 26, 2010

President Obama Pays a Visit to Billy Graham's House

grahamobama.jpg

President Obama met with Billy Graham yesterday, the first time a sitting president has met in Graham's North Carolina home, according to his spokesman A. Larry Ross.

Franklin Graham, whose invitation to a Pentegon prayer service was rescinded last week, also attended the meeting. Here are the details from Ross:

Over coffee, the two men discussed a variety of topics, including their wives, and love for and similar experiences with golf and Chicago – where the President started his career, and Mr. Graham attended school and has had several significant crusades.

Like others before him, President Obama shared how lonely, demanding and humbling the office of President can be, and how much he appreciated the counsel of people like Mr. Graham and the prayers of so many citizens.

Mr. Graham presented the President with two Bibles – one for him, and other for the First Lady – after which the President prayed for Mr. Graham, who, in turn, concluded with a prayer for the President, his family and his Administration.

Obama and Graham were supposed to meet in October 2008 during the campaign, but it was canceled due to Graham's health.

"Reverend Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "He's a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."

Graham made a rare public appearance in Charlotte last week for a ceremony at the Billy Graham Library, which reopened last week after renovations.

April 6, 2010

Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees

Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the White House Easter prayer breakfast where President Obama briefly addressed 90 Christian clergy and guests this morning. Obama offered his “deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers” to the families of dead and missing coal miners in West Virginia.

He said he had offered federal assistance to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Obama asked his guests to “pray for the safe return of the missing” and for the souls of the victims, according to the pool report.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also attended the breakfast. Here's more from the pool report:

Obama said his breakfast for Christian clergy was part of a broader effort to welcome all faiths to the White House that had included a celebratory dinner to mark the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan and a sedar as a part of Jews’ commemoration of Passover.

The President, speaking from notes, spoke in personal terms about the inspiration he drew from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, recalling the scorn and derision heaped upon Jesus en route to his crucifixion, the “torture” of his death by the Roman Empire and the “agony of his crucifixion.” Obama said that he drew particular inspiration “that speaks to me” from Christ’s final moments on the cross when Jesus “summoned what remained of his strength” to say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Obama introduced the Rev. Cynthia Hall to deliver the first prayer as the pool was escorted from the East Room.

The WH press office released a partial list of attendees:

Pastor Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, IL
Pastor Joel Osteen, Pastor, Lakewood Church
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nucio to Washington, D.C.,
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, A.M.E. Church
Elder Nancy Wilson, Metropolitan Community Church
Commissioner Israel Gaither, National Commander, Salvation Army
Hyepin Im, Korean Christian Community Development
Dr. Arturo Chavez, President, Mexican American Catholic College
Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fr. Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches
Dr. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention of America
Sister Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association


Continue reading Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees...

April 5, 2010

Obama Family Attends Easter Sunday Service

President Obama and his family attended Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington on Easter Sunday, according to the Washington Post.


During one song, Obama nudged his older daughter, Malia, and tried to persuade her to dance. "Come on," he said. Then he swayed his shoulders and clapped his hands with exaggerated enthusiasm until Malia started to laugh.

Few who sat behind Obama looked as relaxed. Two Secret Service officers occupied the pew behind the first family and acted as a moving shield, standing when they stood, swaying when the Obamas swayed, sitting when they sat. Ten ushers stood in the center aisle, wearing black suits and white gloves. Secret Service agents wore headsets and kept lookout from the church balcony. Some parishioners held cellphone cameras above their heads to take pictures of the president.

Most speakers also focused, at least momentarily, on Obama's attendance. Bell, the pastor, called him "the most intelligent, most anointed, most charismatic president this country has ever seen." Then he looked at Obama and said: "God has his hands all over you."

Obama told MSNBC earlier that his family has decided not to join a church because it draws too much attention on him and his family. He said he enjoyed attending church at Camp David, but continues to visit various churches.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

February 24, 2010

Report: Foreign Policy Must Engage Religious Communities

A new report recommends that the Obama administration should make religion an important part of the United State's foreign policy.

"The success of American diplomacy in the next decade will be measured in no small part by its ability to connect with the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world whose identity is defined by religion," the Chicago Council on Global Affairs states in the release.

Notre Dame's Scott Appleby said in a Washington Post video that some people in government feel hand-cuffed in dealing with religion.

"Many scholars and policy makers are very wary of engaging religious communities abroad because they fear that our Constitution prohibits such engagement, and that fear is not well-founded," he said. He also said that for security reasons, the U.S. is engaged with countries that also repress religion.


Continue reading Report: Foreign Policy Must Engage Religious Communities...

February 4, 2010

Hillary Clinton, Tim Tebow, Barack Obama Headline National Prayer Breakfast

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the anti-homosexuality bill proposed in Uganda while President Obama called it "odious" at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. Tim Tebow gave the closing prayer. I tweeted a few updates at twitter.com/ctmagazine and posted video from my phone of Obama and Tebow on YouTube.

I spoke briefly with Tebow after the breakfast who was friendly but was whisked away for a meeting. I also passed South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford in the hallway but could not interview him in time before the breakfast.

Below I've posted Obama's remarks as released by the White House.

Continue reading Hillary Clinton, Tim Tebow, Barack Obama Headline National Prayer Breakfast...

January 27, 2010

Obama Pledges End to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

President Obama focused on the economy in his first State of the Union address tonight, but towards the end of his speech, he briefly touched on a law that prevents openly gays from serve in the military.

"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said to shouts and applause. "It's the right thing to do." He also praised the hate crimes law passed last year.

Obama made a similar pledge while speaking to the nation's largest gay advocacy group in October.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the the law, that says if openly gay military personnel will be discharged.

The Hill reported on Monday that the White House asked Sen. Carl Levin to postpone announcing a hearing that would explore repealing the law. The hearing had been expected at the end of January, and now the target date is expected to be February 11, Roxana Tiron reports.

Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates in a recent report that 66,000 gay, lesbian, and bisexuals (about 2 percent) are serving in the military, according to the Washington Post.

Although President Obama's top domestic policy aides insist that the president is committed to an equality agenda for gays and lesbians, many liberal and gay rights groups are unhappy that the administration has failed to act on Obama's campaign pledge to end "don't ask, don't tell."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the issue has been "a point of discussion" among top White House aides.

Towards the end of the speech, Obama also mentioned his cooperation with Muslims. "We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation," he said.

Update: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell gave the Republican rebuttal, citing Scripture.

Top-down one-size fits all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best.

And no government program can replace the actions of caring Americans freely choosing to help one another. The Scriptures say "To whom much is given, much will be required." As the most generous and prosperous nation on Earth, it is heartwarming to see Americans giving much time and money to the people of Haiti. Thank you for your ongoing compassion.

January 18, 2010

Obama Tells Church Faith `Keeps Me Calm'

President Obama visited Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, a historic congregation that was visited by Martin Luther King Jr.

President Obama addressed how his faith guides him and the importance of hard work as he marked the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Washington church on Sunday.

"Folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm," he said at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, a historic congregation that was visited by King. "I have a confession to make here. ... There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts. But let me tell you during those times, it's faith that keeps me calm. It's faith that gives me peace."

The president spoke for almost half an hour in the usual spot for the sermon on the church's program, addressing about 500 people gathered in the Family Life Center of the congregation founded by freed slaves in 1866. At times he spoke like a preacher, opening his speech with "Good morning. Praise be to God," and concluding with "through God all things are possible."

He spoke of holding the kind of "faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake's wake with the sound of prayer and hymns sung by the Haitian community," as the congregation applauded in agreement.

King visited the church in 1956, Obama noted, "as a 27-year-old preacher to speak on what he called the challenge of a new age."

At the time of King's visit the Supreme Court had ruled that the desegregated bus system in Montgomery, Ala., he opposed was unconstitutional. The high court had also ruled in Brown v. Board of Education against school segregation but schools and states had "ignored it with impunity," Obama recalled.

"Here we are more than half a century later, once again facing the challenges of a new age," he said. Even with "fits and starts," he said there has been progress over bigotry and prejudice.

"It's that progress that made it possible for me to be here today, for the good people of this country to elect an African-American the 44th president of the United States of America."

He said the civil rights movement in particular and the country in general have been successful when all Americans are responsible and work hard.

"In this country, there's no substitute for hard work," Obama said. "No substitute for a job well done, no substitute for being responsible stewards of God's blessings."

Continue reading Obama Tells Church Faith `Keeps Me Calm'...

December 22, 2009

What Baby Jesus Symbolizes for Obama

President Obama visited a Boys & Girls Club in Washington, D.C. yesterday to deliver some cookies and talk about the baby Jesus.

When Obama said it's important to remember why Christmas, one of the children piped up and said, "I know!" Obama asked, "Do you know?" The child said, "The birth of baby Jesus." Here's how Obama responded, according to a transcript provided by the White House.

The birth of baby Jesus, and what he symbolizes for people all around the world is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect. And so I just hope that spirit of giving that's so important at Christmas, I hope all of you guys remember that as well. You know, it's not just about getting gifts but it's also doing something for other people. So being nice to your mom and dad and grandma and aunties and showing respect to people -- that's really important too, that's part of the Christmas spirit, don't you think? Do you agree with me?

He asked the children if they had an interesting observation.

Child: I know why we give gifts to other people.
Obama: Why is that?
Child: Because the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus.
Obama: That's exactly right. ... You know, the three wise men, if you think about it, here are these guys, they have all this money, they've got all this wealth and power, and yet they took a long trip to a manger just to see a little baby. And it just shows you that just because you're powerful or you're wealthy, that's not what's important. What's important is what's -- the kind of spirit you have.
So I hope everybody has a spirit of kindness and thoughtfulness, and everybody is really thinking about how can they do for other people -- treating them well, because that's really the spirit of Christmas.

October 12, 2009

The Obamas Attend a Church in D.C.

The first family listened to a sermon on how Christianity has consequences.

President Obama attended St. John's Church with his family in D.C. yesterday, an Episcopal church close to the White House.

An administration official told CT that the Obamas have not settled on a new permanent church. Obama attended the same church on Easter Sunday and Inauguration Day, but it's unclear whether there was a particular reason they visited St. John's yesterday.

The Associated Press caught video of Obama and his wife Michelle talking with the Rev. Luis León before leaving the church with Joshua Dubois, the director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:

Mike Angell, a seminarian of the church, posted a rough version of the sermon he gave on his blog:

We do not walk alone. Take a moment and look around this sanctuary. None of us walks this way alone. Christianity has consequences, and none of us can face those consequences alone. There is a danger to read the story of the rich man individualistically. We can make it a story about a man who has to individually choose whether or not he will follow Jesus. When Jesus invited the rich man to follow him, he invited him to join a community, a community boldly living life together in a new way. These followers of the way were later called Christians. Jesus walks beside us, and we walk beside our sisters and brothers, the body of Christ. Christianity has consequences, and none of us can face them alone. So I am excited to be here with you at St. John’s for the next couple of years. I am excited to walk with you and to boldly face, together, the consequences of our Christianity.

Continue reading The Obamas Attend a Church in D.C....

October 9, 2009

Obama's Peace Prize

President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” especially his efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The surprise move was praised by National Association of Evangelical President Leith Anderson and megachurch pastor Joel Hunter.

Leith Anderson

“I first heard the call for a world free of nuclear weapons from President Ronald Reagan when he addressed the National Association of Evangelicals over twenty-five years ago. The Nobel prize for President Obama acknowledges and perpetuates the Reagan vision.”

Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland—A Church Distributed

“The ambition to free future generations from the fear of indiscriminate destruction is a truly nonpartisan ambition that resonates with our deepest moral convictions. President Obama is to be congratulated for setting a course so that the generation that had school drills to hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack should be the source of a permanent recess from fear for our grandchildren.”

Continue reading Obama's Peace Prize...

August 19, 2009

Obama Attempts to Debunk Rumors in Call to Faith Leaders

President Obama pitched government-funded health care as a “a core ethical and moral obligation” in a conference call open to the public tonight, saying that some people are "bearing false witness."

"This notion that we are somehow setting up death panels that would decide on whether elderly people get to live or die. That is just an extraordinary lie," he said. "You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true."

Obama also said his opponents have claimed that elderly Americans that a new health insurance system could jeopardize Medicare.

"Many of you have older members of your congregations. They’re all now scared to death that someone is talking about cutting Medicare benefits," he said. "That is again simply not true."

Faith in Public Life estimated that 140,000 people participated in the call.

"These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation," Obama said. "And that is that we look out for one another. That I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper."

Sojourners President Jim Wallis, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes also spoke.

Continue reading Obama Attempts to Debunk Rumors in Call to Faith Leaders...

August 19, 2009

Francis Collins Resigns from Faith and Science Foundation

National Institutes of Health chief Francis Collins resigned from the BioLogos Foundation, the foundation he started in May as a way to reconcile faith and science, USA Today reports.

"I want to reassure everyone I am here to lead the NIH as best I can, as a scientist," Collins said, noting concerns.

The author of The Language of God: 'A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief has been outspoken about his faith in the past.

''The NIH director needs to focus on science,'' Collins told the Associated Press on Monday. ''I have no religious agenda for the NIH.''

The AP reports that Collins resigned from the Web site the day before assuming his new job, but was proud of its work.

"I do think the current battle that's going on in our culture between extreme voices is not a productive one," he said. "The chance to play some kind of useful role in that conversation by pointing out the potential harmony was something that seemed to be making some inroads."

Update: Family Research Council's David Prentice responds to Collins, who supports using embryos for research and helped Obama craft his policy for the NIH. "Saying that one is a devout evangelical Christian while promoting embryo and cloning experiments, is a bit akin to claiming to be a devout Druid while promoting clear-cutting of forests," Prentice writes.

August 18, 2009

Obama's Call to Faith Leaders

President Obama will address health care concerns during a public call-in with religious leaders tomorrow at 5 p.m. Eastern, as reported last week.

The press release states that a "high-level administration official" will answer questions, but a Faith in Public Life spokeswoman declined to give more details pending confirmation.

The call will be open to the public, streamed live, and include various religious leaders, including Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton, and Sojourners President Jim Wallis.

To listen to “40 Minutes for Health Reform,” log on to www.faithforhealth.org at 5 p.m. Eastern or call 347-996-5501.

August 17, 2009

Having it Both Ways on Same-Sex Marriage?

The Department of Justice defended the Defense of Marriage Act again while claiming the law discriminates against gays, according to the Associated Press. "This administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal," government attorneys wrote. The DOJ asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit brought on by a gay couple who married in California last year.

"The administration believes the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and should be repealed," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, because it prevents equal rights and benefits.

The Justice Department, she added, is obligated "to defend federal statutes when they are challenged in court. The Justice Department cannot pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one administration's policy preferences."

The law prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, permitting states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The White House issued the following statement by Obama.

"This brief makes clear, however, that my Administration believes that the Act is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. I have long held that DOMA prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. While we work with Congress to repeal DOMA, my Administration will continue to examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits to LGBT couples under existing law."

August 10, 2009

Senate Confirms Collins as Head of NIH

The Senate on Friday confirmed Francis Collins, a geneticist known for his role in decoding the human genome and dedication to bridging the gap between religion and science, as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday that Collins was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

"Dr. Collins will be an outstanding leader," Sebelius said in a statement. "Today is an exciting day for NIH and for science in this country."

Collins, an evangelical Christian, authored the best-selling book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, and established the BioLogos Foundation to promote harmony between Christian faith and scientific discovery.

August 10, 2009

Obama to Call Faith Leaders on Health Care

President Obama has accepted an invitation to speak during a public call-in about health care reform on August 19. The call will be open to the public, streamed live, and include a coalition of religious groups ranging from Sojourners to Faith in Public Life to the National Baptist Convention. More details will be released this afternoon.

The coalition released the “40 Days for Health Reform” initiative this morning, including a national TV ad featuring Christians arguing for healthcare reform, prayer events, meetings with members of Congress, and a nationwide health care sermon weekend on August 28-30.


July 22, 2009

Abortion Weighs Down Healthcare Debate

President Obama said the public should become less focused on whether abortion would be covered under federal healthcare in an interview with Katie Couric last night.

KATIE COURIC: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know-- the-- the-- the-- what I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we're still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I'm pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition-- of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of-- you know, government funded health care. And, you know, my-- you know, rather than wade into that issue at this point-- I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.


(h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Continue reading Abortion Weighs Down Healthcare Debate...

July 20, 2009

Mormon President Meets with Obama

President Obama met with with Mormon president Thomas S. Monson today, a meeting that was prompted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is Mormon. Monson presented Obama with a breakdown of his family history.

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"I enjoyed my meeting with President Monson and Elder Oaks. I'm grateful for the genealogical records that they brought with them and am looking forward to reading through the materials with my daughters," Obama said in a statement. "It's something our family will treasure for years to come."

The Salt Lake Tribune gives some background for the visit. Two church leaders attended Obama's inauguration and attended the a prayer service at the National Cathedral the next day. Former President George W. Bush stopped in Utah twice during his last term to talk with church officials.

Update: Here's the press release from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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July 16, 2009

Obama's Recent Catholic Picks

President Obama chose Regina Benjamin as surgeon general earlier this week, earning initial praise for rebuilding her clinic after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and than destroyed by a fire a year later. She has also done missionary work in Honduras was awarded a medal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

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But McClatchy reports that Benjamin "supports the president's position on reproductive health issues." White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said, "Like him she believes that this is an issue where it is important to try and seek common ground and come together to try and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. As a physician, she is deeply committed to the philosophy of putting her patients' needs first when it comes to providing care."

Life News reports that in 1996, she spoke in favor of the American Medical Association's governing body vote to "urge medical schools to expand their curriculum" to teach "more about abortion."

A 2007 interview with the Catholic Digest suggests that her Catholic faith influences her medical practice.

Continue reading Obama's Recent Catholic Picks...

July 15, 2009

Gerson: Francis Collins Signals Maturity for Evangelicalism

Christian groups took notice when President Obama chose evangelical scientist Francis Collins as the new head of the National Institutes on Health, despite some questions about his support for embryonic stem-cell research.

Michael Gerson writes for the Washington Post that his appointment signals that evangelicalism is growing up.

Collins's appointment says something good about the maturity of modern evangelicalism, which is starting to abandon some of its least productive debates with modernity. Criticisms of evolution, rooted in 19th-century controversies, have done little more than set up religious young people for entirely unnecessary crises of faith as they encounter scientific knowledge. In the running conflict of modern biology and evangelicalism, Collins is a peacemaker.

Gerson also writes that it signals maturity for President Obama. "In the process, Obama has affirmed something important: that anti-supernaturalism is not a litmus test at the highest levels of science," he writes.

If you want a few chuckles, take a look at this 2006 video where Stephen Colbert heckles Collins a little bit about science and faith.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Francis Collins
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

Colbert asks, "Are you going to be the only Christian in hell?"

July 8, 2009

Obama to Meet Pope for the First Time on Friday

President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI will meet for the first time face-to-face on Friday during Obama's trip to Italy for the G8 summit.

The meeting will likely be characterized as a clash of the pro-life and pro-choice agendas. As early as November of last year, Time magazine predicted this meeting and asked: "Will the Pope and Obama Clash Over Abortion?" Abortion and other topics related to bioethics are expected to be raised at the meeting. Time's latest story reports:

To paint the Obama-meets-Benedict dossier in broad strokes, says one senior Vatican diplomat, "it's basically the reverse of Bush." In other words, the Pope tends to appreciate the new President's less aggressive approach to foreign affairs, while he disagrees on ethical matters such as abortion rights and stem-cell research - whereas President George W. Bush was seen by the Vatican as one of the few like-minded Western leaders on social issues, but whose invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by the Vatican.

In preparation for the meeting, Obama reached out to the Catholic community in the U.S. at a roundtable with mostly-Catholic news service reporters on July 2. At the meeting, Obama emphasized his respect for the Catholic Church and referenced his personal experience with the social work of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, an early supporter of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Continue reading Obama to Meet Pope for the First Time on Friday...

June 29, 2009

Has Obama Chosen a Church?

Time magazine reports that President Obama has told his aides that his primary place of worship will be Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.

The White House has not made an official statement yet.

Update: White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki said by e-mail: "The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family."

Amy Sullivan and Elizabeth Dias reported that a number of factors drove the decision - financial, political, personal, and being able to worship without being on display. At St. John's, worshippers snapped photos of Obama with their camera phones.

Carey Cash, who attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and served as a chaplain in the Iraq War, preaches at the chapel.

If the White House had custom-ordered a pastor to be the polar opposite of Jeremiah Wright, they could not have come as close as Cash. (As it is, the White House had no hand in selecting Cash. The Navy rotates chaplains through Camp David every three years; Cash began his tour this past January.) The 38-year-old Memphis native is a graduate of the Citadel and the great-nephew of Johnny Cash. He served a tour as chaplain with a Marine battalion in Iraq and baptized nearly 60 Marines during that time. Cash earned his theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth - and, yes, that means Obama's new pastor is a Southern Baptist.

Time reports that Obama will still looking for someone he can pray with and turn to for spiritual guidance. An earlier New York Times article reported that Obama's spiritual advisers have included Otis Moss, T. D. Jakes, Kirbyjon Caldwell, Jim Wallis, and Joel Hunter.

June 22, 2009

Obama's Decision-Makers

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder has sifted through the National Journal profiles of 366 top officials in the Obama administration. Here's an interesting tidbit:

The percentage of white Christians among top officials whose religious affiliation is known dropped from 71 percent during Bush's second term to 46 percent in the Obama administration.

June 19, 2009

Obama Urges Immigration Reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

President Obama told an audience at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast that the country must be guided by the principle "love thy neighbor as thy self" as it seeks immigration reform.

"We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots," the President said. ""For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line, behind those who played by the rules. ...We must give life to that fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper."

The president started his speech with his usual reminder that America is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and non-believers and spoke about the importance of prayer.

"But prayer is more than a last resort," he said. "Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives, and it helps us find the vision and the strength to see the world that we want to build."

Here's a portion of the speech as provided by the White House:

Continue reading Obama Urges Immigration Reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast...

June 5, 2009

Obama Speech Draws Strong Reactions

Analysts and leading evangelicals are reacting pretty strongly to specific concerns about President Obama's "speech to the Muslim world" in Cairo on Thursday, including his definition of democracy, persecution by Muslims, support of Israel, and use of religion to support his goals.

National Review Online asked religious freedom activist Nina Shea, "Is there an 'Arab world' approach to religious freedom?"

She responded:

None of the Arab countries is ranked as "free" in the Center for Religious Freedom survey, though the degree of repression varies. Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are the worst, while Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Oman are relatively better. All restrict minorities in varying degrees, and virtually all officially sponsor anti-Semitism. And all are intolerant of and punish apostates, heretics, blasphemers, and those who "insult" Islam. This has resulted in repressing converts from and critics of Islam as well as writers, scholars, artists, journalists, democracy activists, reformers, women's rights proponents, and others who exercise the right to free speech. This has contributed to the political, intellectual, and economic stagnation of this part of the world, as observed in the U.N.'s Arab Development Report.

Freedom House issued a statement applauding Obama's commitment to democracy. However, American Values President Gary Bauer, writing for Human Events, thought that Obama's stance for universal values was too broad:

Somewhere lost in all of the hype over Obama's outreach to the world is a sense that he stands most proudly as the American President. It's time for the president's soaring rhetoric to be applied in support of this great nation and its Judeo-Christian heritage.

Bauer also criticized Obama for neglecting to mention persecution by Muslims. Prior to the speech, Bauer had hoped that Obama would address the persecution of Christians in many Muslim countries. Bauer noted Obama singled out Saudi Arabia as a good example of "interfaith dialogue" even though last March the State Department placed the country on its list of severe violators of religious freedom. Bauer was disappointed that Obama worked harder to "ingratiate himself to Muslim leaders" than to criticize their faults:

[T]he president could have said so much more. The suppression of basic human rights is a fact of life throughout much of the Islamic world, and Muslim nations make up a large percentage of the State Department's list of the world's most severe violators of religious freedom. That list includes Saudi Arabia, and its dictator, King Abdullah, whose "counsel" Obama sought earlier this week in a trip to Riyadh.

Some in mainline Protestant circles found much to like in the Obama speech.

Continue reading Obama Speech Draws Strong Reactions ...

June 4, 2009

Obama to Muslims: Make Peace, Not War

On the campus of Cairo University today, President Obama delivered a speech mainly addressed to the 1 billion plus followers of Islam around the world.

Cairo is recognized as the intellectual HQ of global Islam, so selection of Cairo as the venue for this speech was the easy part. I've read thru the transcript of the address and here are two stand-out ideas that I impressed me:

First idea: The US President bears a particular duty to resolve differences between the West and Islam.

Obama said:

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

This is such an unusual formation to depict the core matter as tension between the Superpower United States and "Muslims around the world." Many non-Muslims will not agree with this conceptual framework.

Second idea: World peace hangs in the balance and peace-minded Christians, Muslims, and Jews should deploy "Golden Rule"-based ethics.

Here's the quote:

But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

Once again, Obama draws on his core commitments to pragmatic approaches to address complex political situations. His call to "a new beginning" will seem so very naive to Middle East experts, but many have also under-estimated Obama. So don't count him out yet.

Continue reading Obama to Muslims: Make Peace, Not War...

May 26, 2009

AP: Obama picks Sotomayor for Supreme Court

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President Obama will choose U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court today, according to an AP report.

Sotomayor (SUHN'-ya soh-toh-my-YOR') will take retiring Justice David Souter's place if she is approved by the Senate. She would be the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

According to the New York Times Caucus blog, Obama's short list included Federal Appeals Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Obama will make the announcement at 10:15 Eastern. You can watch live on the White House website. Check back here for updates.

May 19, 2009

How to Evangelize in Afghanistan

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President Obama has pledged to make the war in Afghanistan a top foreign policy priority. He has maintained strong relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (inset photo) and spoke out in favor of winning the conflict there.

But the military strategy, just like the Bush administration, has come to dominate the American response from keeping the Karzai regime in power to fighting the Taliban.

From an evangelical point of view, the Obama administration goals do not seamlessly match up with gospel priorities. The situation is complicated significantly by the number of evangelicals in the Armed Services in Afghanistan and many of them are commited to spreading the gospel.

Note this recent article from Al Jazeera English language service:

US soldiers have been encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan's predominantly Muslim population, video footage obtained by Al Jazeera appears to show.

Military chaplains stationed in the US air base at Bagram were also filmed with bibles printed in the country's main Pashto and Dari languages.

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him".

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

Here is the You Tube/Al Jazeera segment:

This entanglement of fervent faith and lethal military might sure looks like a potentially dangerous combination to me. What do you think?

This kind of effort touches on a wide collection of missiological issues. Certainly, Christians worldwide endorse the place of military chaplains and the universal right of people to spread their faith.

However, the US military mission gets intermingled with the freedom of religious expression and outreach. On the receiving end in Afghanistan, I imagine this is pretty confusing for Muslims.


May 17, 2009

Obama Addresses Abortion, Religion, and Race at Notre Dame

President Obama addressed abortion for the first time since his election during his speech to Notre Dame graduates today.

"So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term," Obama said to applause.

"I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away," Obama said. "No matter how much we may want to fudge it ? indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory ? the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." He called for a respectful debate with "open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words."

Obama re-told his conversion story of how he worked as a community organizer with church members. "I found myself drawn ? not just to work with the church, but to be in the church," he said. "It was through this service that I was brought to Christ." Obama also noted his African American race and the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Here are some clips edited by the Associated Press:

Here's a video from Politico where a person in the audience starts to heckle Obama:

The full text of Obama's prepared remarks continue after the jump.

Continue reading Obama Addresses Abortion, Religion, and Race at Notre Dame...

May 7, 2009

Why HIV/AIDS is going to get worse under Obama

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More news about the fiscal 2010 Federal Budget is trickling out this week. Less than expected funding for treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB is not what many public health professionals were hoping for.

In fact, some are saying President Obama has broken a campaign promise he made last year to increase by $1 billion the total amount allocated to fighting HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria.

The Center for Global Health Policy said:

Leading disease experts said President Barack Obama's 2010 budget proposal for global health falls far short of what is needed to combat the deadly twin epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Details on global health spending were released by the White House today, and a preliminary analysis indicates the President is proposing only $165 million in additional funding for bilateral AIDS as well as the US contribution to the Global Fund. "This proposal is even worse than we had feared. With this spending request, Obama has broken his campaign promise to provide $1 billion a year in new money for global AIDS, and he has overlooked the growing threat of tuberculosis," said the Center for Global Health Policy's Director, Christine Lubinski. While malaria receives a significant boost, Obama's call for a meager increase in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) budget is no match for the scope of the AIDS crisis, which killed 2 million people in 2007, nearly 5,500 a day. Obama's detailed budget blueprint comes as developing countries are struggling to preserve their fragile health systems. In several countries, drug shortages and treatment program cutbacks now threaten the lives of millions of HIV/AIDS and TB patients. This unfolding health crisis could quickly spread, as people who stop treatment become far more infectious. Treatment disruption can also lead to drug-resistance, an extremely expensive and potentially deadly development.

Meanwhile, the President has named his top person on HIV/AIDS. He is a career physician with a long-standing focus on HIV: Dr. Eric Goosby (photo above).

Continue reading Why HIV/AIDS is going to get worse under Obama...

May 4, 2009

Obama Plans Proclamation, Not Event, for National Day of Prayer

The Obama administration says it will issue a proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, but appears to be moving away from the White House ceremonies hosted by former President George W. Bush.

"President Obama is a committed Christian and believes that we should be engaging Americans of faith in efforts to renew our country," a White House official said.

"He is following the tradition of Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and others by signing a proclamation honoring the National Day of Prayer, while continuing to work with communities of faith to improve our country."

During Bush's eight years in office, prominent evangelicals, including National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman Shirley Dobson, and her husband, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, gathered each year for an East Room ceremony on the first Thursday in May.

"We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration," Shirley Dobson said in a statement issued by the task force on Monday. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer."

Continue reading Obama Plans Proclamation, Not Event, for National Day of Prayer...

April 30, 2009

Obama's First 100 Days

As President Obama marked his first 100 days in office yesterday, a new Gallup poll shows that 41 percent of weekly church attenders supported Obama before the election, but the number has jumped to 57 percent.

Dan Gilgoff offers a round-up of what's happened in the last 100 days, but most of Obama's focus has been on the economy and more recently on the swine flu.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land has worked with presidential administrations going back to Ronald Reagan's, but he can't remember any that has convened an advisory council composedised mostly of religious leaders, as President Obama has done. The council gives religion "an institutionally higher profile than under President Bush," says the conservative Land, who directs public policy for the nation's largest evangelical denomination. "No president that I've dealt with has had anything like it."

During his press conference last night, Obama was asked whether he hopes Congress sends him the Freedom of Choice Act soon, which Obama said was not not highest legislative priority.

Continue reading Obama's First 100 Days...

April 28, 2009

NYC Artist Cancels Obama-as-Jesus Portrait

Artist Michael D'Antuono was planning to unveil "The Truth" - a portrait of President Obama wearing a crown of thorns and holding his hands in crucifix form - tomorrow in New York's Union Square to commemorate Obama's 100th day in office, but decided to cancel after receiving thousands of angry e-mails about the portrait's religious overtones.

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The portrait, which shows Obama lifting a dark veil to reveal (or hide) the presidential seal, was not meant to offend Christians or make light of their beliefs, D'Antuono told Mark Hemingway of National Review Online. He explains:

The idea of the piece, or the reaction that I'd hoped for, was to highlight our nation's deep partisan divide and how our interpretation of the truth is really prejudiced by our political perspective and I think that to a large degree we are being manipulated by the media. I miss the old day when we just have the facts. Now we have pundits and spin and strategists.

I just thought that through that painting people would see different things. The right and the left would have different interpretations of it based on their political lens. But I have to admit I was very surprised that instead of that I got thousands of email[s] complaining on the religious front. And that was not my intent at all. I wanted to create a dialog politically but not religiously. I didn't mean to make fun of anybody's religion; maybe I did so naively but I didn't mean it that way. In the bible Jesus is The Truth and comparing Obama that way isn't something I meant to do at all.

Apparently, I've upset a lot of people. And I've decided that's not what I wanted to do and I'm not going to display it in the park on Wednesday ... art is meant to be somewhat provocative but the religious element went way farther than I had anticipated.

Continue reading NYC Artist Cancels Obama-as-Jesus Portrait...

April 27, 2009

Citing Obama Invitation, Catholic Lawyer Rejects Notre Dame Medal

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Citing the University of Notre Dame's decision to host President Obama at its May 17 commencement ceremony, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon has declined to accept the school's prestigious Laetare Medal and to speak opposite Obama at commencement. In a letter sent this morning to Notre Dame president John Jenkins, Glendon, a pro-life Harvard Law School professor, writes:

"A commencement . . . is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision - in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops - to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice."

The "settled position" Glendon mentions is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2004 request that Catholic institutions "not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" and that such persons "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Glendon also expresses concern that Notre Dame's decision could set off a "ripple effect" among U.S. Catholic universities.

President Jenkins released a brief response Monday: "We are, of course, disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision. It is our intention to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible."

Glendon's entire letter is below. See Francis Beckwith's response to Notre Dame's decision here, and Richard Mouw's and David Dockery's responses here.

Continue reading Citing Obama Invitation, Catholic Lawyer Rejects Notre Dame Medal...

April 16, 2009

Obama Donates .3 Percent of 2008 Income To Faith-Based Charities

The President and his wife gave $172,050 - about 6.5 percent of his gross income - to charities.

President Obama and his wife gave $172,050 - about 6.5 percent of his gross income - to charities in 2008, ABC News' Jake Tapper and Karen Travers report. The Obamas gave $8,050 - or .3 percent of their gross income - to churches and faith-based charities, which represented nine of the 37 charities, according to his tax return.

Here's a breakdown of some of the faith-based charity donations from Dan Gilgoff:

* $500 to Apostolic Church of God
* $200 to Brookland Baptist Church
* $500 to Brown AME Church
* $1,000 to Catholic Relief Services
* $150 to Crusade of Mercy
* $100 to First Lutheran Church
* $5,000 to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity
* $500 to St. Leo's Residence for Veterans
* $100 to St Luke's United Methodist Church

Vice President Joe Biden reported an income of $269,256 last year -- after taxes that comes to $183,315, according to ABC News. The VP's office says: "The charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity. They donate to their church, and they contribute to their favorite causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks."

The list of Obama's donations comes after the jump.

Continue reading Obama Donates .3 Percent of 2008 Income To Faith-Based Charities...

April 15, 2009

Conservatives Decry Homeland Security `Extremism' Report

Conservative Christian groups blasted a new report from the Department of Homeland Security on "rightwing extremism," calling it an example of "guilt by association" for linking anti-abortion activists with hate groups.

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The 10-page "assessment" from the department stresses that the report is not based on specific threats.

"The HDS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis ... has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," the April 7 report says, "but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues."

The report draws parallels between the "current national climate" with the 1990s, when there was evidence of "white supremacists' longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes, and same-sex marriage."

It cites the economic downturn and the election of the nation's first African-American president as potential "drivers" for recruitment by rightwing groups.

Continue reading Conservatives Decry Homeland Security `Extremism' Report...

April 13, 2009

Sebelius Received More Money from Abortion Doctor than Disclosed

Adding more fuel to the fire, President Obama's health secretary nominee Kathleen Sebelius received nearly three times as much money from an abortion doctor than she disclosed, according to the Associated Press.

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Sebelius has already angered conservatives for her pro abortion stances. She told the Senate Finance Committee that she took money from from George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, who was acquitted last month of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.

She told the committee that she received $12,450 between 1994 and 2001 from Tiller. But Erica Werner at the AP reports that Tiller gave at least $23,000 more from 2000 to 2002 to a political action committee while Sebelius was state insurance commissioner so she could raise money for Democrats.

The Finance Committee was expected to vote this month on forwarding Sebelius' nomination to the full Senate. There was no immediate indication from committee Republicans that her omission on the Tiller contributions would upset that timing.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which is opposing Sebelius' nomination, circulated the campaign finance documents showing the discrepancy in what Sebelius told senators. The records were reviewed Monday by the AP and their accuracy was verified by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Continue reading Sebelius Received More Money from Abortion Doctor than Disclosed...

April 13, 2009

In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's

While aides scour the nation's capital for a new spiritual home for the first family, the Obamas spent Easter Sunday at an historic Episcopal church across the street from the White House.

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It took the presidential motorcade less than two minutes to drive from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to St. John's of Lafayette Square, a small, yellow Episcopal church with an impressive presidential pedigree.

Every U.S. president since James Madison has attended a worship service at St. John's, according to the church, which reserves a pew -- No. 54 -- whenever the chief executive attends. Former President George W. Bush, a Methodist, made St. John's his unofficial D.C. church home; John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and Franklin Delano Roosevelt also worshipped there, said Gary S. Smith, a historian at Grove City College in Pittsburgh.

Obama himself attended St. John's, sometimes called the "church of the presidents," for a pre-inaugural prayer service on Jan. 20; several days earlier, he visited Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of the city's oldest black churches.

Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the Obamas have "not made a decision yet on which church they will formally join in Washington, but they were honored to worship with the parishioners at St. John's Episcopal Church and at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church earlier this year."

Continue reading In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's...

April 9, 2009

Obama, Islam, and Respect

Daniel Henninger says the Muslim world must be prepared to give it as well as receive it.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal writes, "In short, the "respect" Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that." Henninger says the Muslim world can show its good will by treating Christians better. Here's a telling quote of the kinds of issues that he's talking about:

Continue reading Obama, Islam, and Respect...

April 8, 2009

Obama Revives 'Hussein'

Barack Hussein Obama is back. His full name, that is.

As he fought rumors that he is a Muslim during the campaign, supporters of Obama rarely used his full name while conservative pundits frequently used his full name.

But Obama brought back his midde name Hussein during trips to France this week, according to Jonathan Martin at Politico

On Friday, at a town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France, he made an extemporaneous comment that would have been unthinkable on a campaign where female supporters wearing headscarves were once removed from a camera shot behind the candidate.

"I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now president and George Bush is no longer president, al-Qaida is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be OK," he told the audience.

Martin also writes that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeming to recognize the signal that using Obama's middle name sends, calling him "the distinguished president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama."

April 6, 2009

Hey, Turks!

The headline on President Obama's speech to the Turkish parliament is his statement that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, but for connoisseurs of religious politics, the real interest lies in this remark:

Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

Since its opening on the site of an ancient monastery on an island in the Sea of Marmara in 1844, the Halki Seminary was the main school of theology for the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople. Then, in 1971, the Turks closed the place, on the grounds that they didn't want religious institutions of higher learning to exist independent of the Turkish state. Oh, and the idea that this should become a center for education of world Orthodoxy didn't sit well with them either.

Continue reading Hey, Turks!...

April 2, 2009

Nearly 20 Percent of Evangelicals Thinks Obama is a Muslim

Ten percent of Americans still believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, the same percentage of those who believed the rumor during the campaign. As a group, evangelicals (19 percent) are the most likely to believe he's a Muslim, according to a new poll from the Pew Center for People and the Press.

Just 38 percent of white evangelicals and 46 percent of Republicans identify Obama as a Christian. During the campaign, Obama made frequent references to his Christian faith and fought smear campaigns that said he was a Muslim. But since he took office, Obama has made very few references to his faith.

Continue reading Nearly 20 Percent of Evangelicals Thinks Obama is a Muslim...

March 25, 2009

Obama Notre Dame Speech Draws Fire

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President Obama's planned commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame continues to spark controversy, as the local Catholic bishop said he will boycott the event because some Obama policies contradict church teaching.

Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.) said Tuesday that "as a Catholic university, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth."

"President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," D'Arcy said, "and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life."

The young Obama administration has upset Catholic leaders by opening federal funding to international family planning groups and embryonic stem cell research, as well as proposing to rescind conscience protection rules for health care workers that were instituted by the Bush administration.

Continue reading Obama Notre Dame Speech Draws Fire...

March 23, 2009

Quote of the Day: Messiah Complex

"He can't be here tonight, because he's busy getting ready for Easter," Vice President Joe Biden joked about President Obama at Saturday night's Gridiron dinner. "He thinks it's about him."

(h/t Dan Gilgoff)

March 3, 2009

Presidential Prayer Effort Proves to be Bipartisan

A national grass-roots network that came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for the sole purpose of praying for the president has lost more than 25,000 members since Barack Obama's election last November.

But in that same time, more than 41,000 have signed up.

For John Lind, president of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Presidential Prayer Team, those figures indicate that the ministry that aimed to be nonpartisan when it began in 2001 has lived up to its mission.

"The only ... president we've been under has been (George W.) Bush, so you've got to be realistic and say, `Wow, this could be a substantial dip in our database,' but it wasn't," he said in an interview. "I think it's a positive. It's almost two-to-one new member to unsubscribed."

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That doesn't mean it's been a smooth transition for all of the nearly half-million members who receive weekly e-mail updates guiding them in how to pray for the president. Some have sent the ministry messages saying that it has been "very difficult" to move from praying for Bush to praying for Obama.

"I did not want to pray for Obama because I didn't vote for him, but then I realized that I had to pray for him, and it has literally changed my life to pray for him," wrote a woman who only signed her name as "Betty."

"God really changes our hearts if we allow him to do so. So, thank you for your part in getting us all together."

Other team members, like Barbara Brown from Foresthill, Calif., said they realized that they needed to put prayer ahead of politics after Election Day.

Brown was quoted in a recent profile on the ministry's Web site: "I still have to remind some of my Democrat friends that no, President Obama did not inherit all of our nation's problems from President Bush's administration, and I have to remind some of my Republican friends that even though we did not vote for President Obama, he is now our president and he deserves our respect, honor and prayers as commanded by God."

Lind said since the ministry went online in 2001 it has had 1.7 million people take part in its initiatives, which include praying for not only the president and his administration but military members and grandparents.

The site featured several "40 Days to Pray the Vote" projects leading up to the election and "77 Days of Prayer" between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The latest initiative is "Praying Through the 1st 100 Days" of the Obama presidency; more than 31,500 people have signed up for a daily e-mail that provides them with a verse of Scripture and a short prayer at the start of each day.

Continue reading Presidential Prayer Effort Proves to be Bipartisan...

February 27, 2009

Obama's Hunt for a Church

The Obama's may be settling on a puppy choice, but last I checked, President Obama has not found a church to call home. He's attended some private services, but a new article in Slate concludes that his church hopping habits may not be a bad thing.

Even if the American mania for shopping extends to our spiritual lives, church shopping still doesn't get much respect. But while it may be frequently derided as an example of rampant spiritual consumerism, shopping around can be one of the good things about the way religion is practiced in America.

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Andrew Santella provides a nice round-up of the church shopping phenomenom, but I'm guessing his conclusion would horrify some church leaders. "In that sense, church shopping transfers a bit of power from the pulpit to the pews. And keeping a check on the power of church leaders is never a bad idea."

About 40 percent of Americans attend a religious service at least once a week while 58 percent of evangelicals do the same, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. On the other hand, 61 percent of Americans say they are a member of a congregation, and 74 percent of evangelicals say the same.

Continue reading Obama's Hunt for a Church...

February 12, 2009

Pro-Lifers, It Turns Out, Were a Big Part of Obama's Winning Coalition

I was recently telling a Democratic friend about Obama's abortion balancing act. One day he repeals the Mexico City "gag rule" delighting pro-choice activists. The next week he seems intent on making it up to pro-life voters, announcing that one priority of a new faith-based council will be reducing the need for abortion.

My friend interrupted and said, "why should we care about appeasing the pro-lifers? We won."

The first reason, I said, is because Obama promised.

But then I thought about the word "we." Obviously my friend was making a realpolitick assumption that his side, the Obama coalition, was almost entirely pro-choice. But is that really true?

No. Pro-lifers made up a meaningful percentage of Obama's winning coalition. Professor John Green of University of Akron, czar of all religion-and-politics polling, reports that based on not-yet-released survey conducted in December, about a quarter of Obama's vote came from pro-lifers, defined as people "wanting serious restrictions on abortion, but not necessarily a full ban on abortions." What's more, Green will report, about one third of young voters who went for Obama are pro-life.

These findings comport with Beliefnet's own less scientific user survey.

Now obviously, pro-choicers made up an even bigger portion of his coalition. But pro-lifers comprised a surprisingly big minority.

As a point of reference, this would mean that pro-lifers made up a bigger percentage of Obama's vote than....union members, white Catholics, Jews, gays, Latinos or 18-21 year olds.

As a good Democrat, you'd never think of being so cavalier with those groups, why would you blow off the pro-lifers?

The strong showing comes in part because Obama improved with Latinos, evangelicals, Catholics, and regular church-goers. Obama doesn't have to act on abortion right away -- most of Obama's religious voters care more about the economy than abortion -- but he also shouldn't think that he can abandon his abortion reduction promises without political consequences.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

February 5, 2009

Obama Signs Executive Order on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Obama signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

As expected, Obama named Joshua DuBois as the head of the office. The order says the office will look to "reduce the need for abortion." The office's top priority will be making community groups an important part of economic recovery and reducing poverty. The office will also encourage responsible fatherhood and work with the National Security Council to allow interfaith dialogue around the world.

Evangelicals on an advisory council include Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, Frank S. Page, President emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention, Joel C. Hunter, Pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed, and Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners.

The full press release is below:

Washington (February 5, 2009) ? President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.

"Over the past few days and weeks, there has been much talk about what our government's role should be during this period of economic emergency. That is as it should be ? because there is much that government can and must do to help people in need," said President Obama. "But no matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.

President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to the President in his U.S. Senate office and campaign Director of Religious Affairs, to lead this office. "Joshua understands the issues at stake, knows the people involved, and will be able to bring everyone together ? from both the secular and faith-based communities, from academia and politics ? around our common goals," said President Obama.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four key priorities, to be carried out by working closely with the President's Cabinet Secretaries and each of the eleven agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships:

The Office's top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution ? by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly ? not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America's religious and civic life. The Executive Order President Obama will sign today strengthens this by adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will include a new President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. There will be 25 members of the Council, appointed to 1-year terms.


Members of the Council include:

Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
Philadelphia, PA

Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
Washington, DC

Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
Taylors, SC

Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
Alexandria, VA

Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Cleveland, OH

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
Chicago, IL

Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
New York, NY

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
Philadelphia, PA

Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issues
Winston-Salem, NC

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
Lakeland, FL

Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
Washington, DC

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Knoxville, TN

Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
New York, NY

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision
Bellevue, WA

February 5, 2009

Report: Obama Will Delay Decision on Faith-based Initiatives

The Obama administration will delay a decision on whether religious groups who hire based on the religious background of job applicant can receive federal funding, the Associated Press reports.

The decision will impact whether evangelical groups like World Vision can receive money from the new White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

President Obama will order a legal review of hiring practices for faith-based groups currently participating in White House faith-based initiatives, the AP reports.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama will expand the mission to include abortion reduction and outreach to the Muslim world. Hiring issues should be decided on a case-by-case basis, Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old former campaign advise told Laura Meckler.

"The president found one of the problems with the previous initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration and data," DuBois told the WSJ. President Obama, he said, "doesn't have an interest in rushing questions that are so complex."

Instead, the president will sign an executive order making clear that the director of the new office should seek guidance from the Department of Justice on specific legal issues regarding "how to respect the Constitution" and nondiscrimination laws, Mr. DuBois said.

Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News & World Report writes that Obama's decision mirrors a central recommendation from a report released last December by the Brookings Institution, which recommended that the administration commission a study on the issue.

The study would focus on such questions as: When they are permitted by law or policy to do so, how many religious organizations actually do discriminate in employment matters on the basis of religion in federally-funded programs and activities? To what extent do they do so? Does such discrimination affect a small number of positions, or a larger share? Do religious providers view nondiscrimination obligations to be a hindrance or a help to their work? What does state and local law say on these matters, or what has been common practice? How easy is it for religious providers to segregate government funds from private funds for the payment of employees' salaries? Under various kinds of policies, how many federally-funded jobs would be off-limits to potential employees who did not share the organization's faith commitments?

February 5, 2009

Obama Lauds Faith-Based Initiatives, Gives Personal Testimony in Prayer Breakfast Address

WASHINGTON -- President Obama referenced his plan to allow federal funding to faith-based organizations at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning.

In his the first religiously-themed speech of his presidency, Obama addressed a large gathering of Republicans and Democrats and other leaders at the Washington Hilton hotel. He Obama emphasized in his speech that his plan for the faith-based initiatives will not favor any religious group over another or religious groups over secular groups.

It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

Obama also spoke about the common themes found in religions. "No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate," Obama said. "There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

He also spoke about his father's conversion from atheism to Islam, his mother's resistance to organized religion, and his own path to Christianity.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

Here's a short portion of his speech.


C-SPAN has a full video and below are his prepared remarks:

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well
as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work.
Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn't
matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time
after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another ? as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been
waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next ? and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule ? the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we
may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living,
breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do ? to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that
I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another ? or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those
organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This
work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of
zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

February 5, 2009

Twittering the National Prayer Breakfast

Unless my cell phone is not allowed for some reason, I'll be twittering during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this morning. A spokesman for the breakfast declined to say who the keynote speaker will be, but Roll Call is reporting that Tony Blair will address the crowd. Barack Obama is expected to attend before he announces details about the faith-based initiatives.








Update: Here were my tweets during the prayer breakfast. My phone's predictive text spelled Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's name wrong, but it's corrected below.

Joe Biden just arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

The chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians offered the Lord's Prayer in Cherokee and English.

Barack and Michelle Obama have arrived and Casting Crowns will sing.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson from Mo. read from Gen. 33:1-12.

Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minn. and Johnny Isakson talk about Senate prayer breakfast. Amy saved the grits from being taken off the menu.

The new senator from NY Kirsten Gillibrand (corrected) read from Matt. 5:14-16 and spoke briefly about God's light and love for the world.

Reps Ike Skelton and Todd Akin offer prayers for nation and world leaders. Tony Blair will speak now.

Blair said religion is under attack from inside and out. He said "Only God can forgive completely in the knowledge of our sin."

Blair spoke about the common good in every religion. Said when courage fails faith can lift one up.

Obama insists that he and Blair prepared separately but also spoke about common value in religion: love your neighbor as yourself.

Obama referenced his plan to unveil plans for the faith-based initiatives. Said it would not favor no particular faith.

Obama spoke about his becoming a Christian after spending time with church members who helped neighbors. "I heard Gods spirit beckon me."

February 3, 2009

Diverse Group Tapped for Faith-Based Office Council

The Obama administration will announce a diverse advisory council and details about the new White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

AP reporter Eric Gorski's source says that representation from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is also anticipated.

Here's on the list so far, according to the source:

-The Rev. Joel Hunter, an Orlando, Fla.-area evangelical megachurch pastor who was consulted by the Obama campaign and prayed privately with Obama over the phone the night he was elected.

-Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

-The Rev. Frank Page of Taylors, S.C., the most recent past president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

-Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a public policy arm of Judaism's liberal Reform branch.

-Judith Vredenburgh, president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.

The new office will be announced the same day Obama is expected to appear at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

January 28, 2009

Stimulus Bill includes Funding for Faith-Based Organization Grants

The economic stimulus bill includes a provision for funding $100 million for grants to faith-based organizations, Howard M. Friedman notes on Religion Clause.

According to page 141 of bill, half of the amount would become available October 1, 2009. Friedman also notes that a proposed amendment by Rep. Susan Davis of California would increase the total appropriation to $500 million.

January 27, 2009

Obama Ditching Family Planning from the Stimulus

AP is reporting:

President Barack Obama has told congressional Democrats to drop a proposal to spend money on family planning from the proposed $825 billion plan to stimulate the economy, a White House aide told McClatchy.

Obama is likely to offer that concession when he meets Tuesday with congressional Republicans, who've complained bitterly that the proposal is liberal pork that has nothing to do with stimulating the economy or creating jobs.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

January 27, 2009

Obama Reaches Out to Muslims through TV Interview

President Obama chose an Arabic network for his first television interview, saying that his administration will offer friendship to the Muslim world but will hunt down terrorists that kill innocent civilians. Politico has the full transcript.

In an interview with the Al-Arabiya satellite television network, Obama emphasized his Muslim background and relatives, telling Muslims "that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect."

"And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence," Obama told the network. "We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name."

Paul Schemm of the Associated Press reports on the reaction from those in the Arab world, saying that they have been more cautious about the new president than other parts of the world. Obama said that he would address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital in the first 100 days of his administration, but no location has been announced.

"America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams," Obama said on the network. Several people noted Obama's inclusion of non-believers in the religion lineup in his inaugural address as well.

January 23, 2009

Obama Overturns Mexico City Policy

President Obama signed an executive order called the "Mexico City policy," which reverses a ban on funding international groups that provide abortions.

Ronald Reagan first implemented the policy that prohibited the U.S. from funding programs that offer abortion overseas. Bill Clinton reversed the policy in 1993 while George W. Bush restored it in 2001.

The Associated Press writes, "Obama signed it quietly, without coverage by the media, late on Friday afternoon, a contrast to the midday signings with fanfare of executive orders on other subjects earlier in the week."

Abortion opponents are sending their outraged press releases while progressives are essentially saying "at least he didn't do it yesterday."

Charmaine Yoest, President & CEO of AUL Action: "What a terrible way to begin a new administration: with an abortion business bailout that will exploit women in developing countries for political ends. We should not export the tragedy of abortion to other nations, and we certainly shouldn't do so via the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers."

Jim Wallis of Sojourners: "I am encouraged that President Obama’s first action on abortion was to release a statement supporting a common ground approach to reducing abortion, even as he also reiterated his policy of supporting legal choice. Even more significant was his decision not to issue an executive order rescinding the 'Mexico City policy' on the day of the anniversary of the Roe decision and the annual March for Life."

Obama has spoken several times on the desire to reduce unintended pregnancy, but he reiterated his support for Roe v. Wade yesterday on the Supreme Court decision's anniversary.

December 29, 2008

Mr. Obama Goes to Church--Rarely

Barack Obama has made a point of telling anyone who will listen how important faith is to him. The president-elect speaks the language of faith fluently, for the most part, and he has made a special effort to reach out to evangelicals. But a report in his hometown Chicago Tribune notes that Obama has scarcely appeared at Sunday worship since his famous falling out with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. According to the Trib, "he has not attended a public church service since before being elected, a departure from the actions of his two immediate predecessors."

Noting that he doesn't want to make a commitment to a church before moving to the nation's capital, and worrying about his possibly disruptive presence with other worshipers, Obama says he relies on pastor friends and his own private prayer in the interim.

Yet the president-elect says he will find a church once the move is complete. "We frankly haven't thought about it yet," Obama told the Tribune, "because right now we're just trying to make sure that we don't lose anything in the move, including our children."

Another Obama predecessor cited concerns that he would be a disruption as a factor in his own spotty church attendance as president. His name was Ronald Reagan.

December 23, 2008

The Lincoln Bible Obama Will Use

Dan Gilgoff, formerly of Beliefnet, briefly interviewed Clark Evans, the Library of Congress's head of reference services, rare books, and special collections division about the Bible Barack Obama will use at the inauguration.

Before the election, we cross-posted several posts from Gilgoff when he was politics editor at Beliefnet. He has moved to a new role at U.S. New & World Report and has an excellent new politics & religion blog.

In the interview, Evans tells Gilgoff that the Bible has an inscription.

On the back flyleaf, you find the seal of the Supreme Court and a record of the event written out by William Thomas Carroll. What jumps out at you is that the Supreme Court justice at the time [who administered the oath to Lincoln] was Robert Taney, who had written the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that permitted slavery to spread into the territories. There was a palpable tension between the justice and the president.

December 23, 2008

Franklin Graham: Obama/Warren Criticisms Ludicrous

Evangelist Franklin Graham knows a thing or two about getting flack for praying at an inauguration. He took heat after praying in Jesus's name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. I just spoke with Franklin Graham, who gave his take on Obama's decision to ask megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We have also compiled our coverage of Warren over the years in a special section.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

[Obama] is including evangelicals at his inauguration, but I don't know if he'll include them in his administration. Time will tell. But Rick Warren will have Obama's ear on important issues.


Does Warren's acceptance of the invitation give an implicit nod to Obama's administration?

For anybody to be upset at Rick Warren for offering a prayer to almighty God, asking God to give wisdom and guidance to the Obama administration, is ludicrous.

Should Rick Warren pray in the name of Jesus at the inaugural?

I would hope he does because he's a minister of the gospel. There's no other way to pray. A Muslim should not be offended. [Warren] has no other way to pray than in the name of Christ. No one should be offended, because Rick Warren should be who Rick Warren is, and that's a minister of Jesus Christ.

I know you said a month ago that your father would not be serving as a spiritual adviser to Barack Obama.

He's 90 years old. He's just happy to get up in the morning.

Do you have any advice for Rick Warren?

My advice to Rick is to stay true to your convictions, and don't back up one step. I don't think he will. When you have the far left and the gay advocates mad at you, you must be doing something right.

December 23, 2008

Obama to Be Sworn in Using Lincoln's Bible

Barack Obama will be sworn into office using President Abraham Lincoln's Bible, the first time it has been used since its original use in 1861.

Perhaps the news will snuff out the false rumors that Obama would choose the Koran. Or maybe it will distract people from the Rick Warren pick for a few minutes.

The press release from the transition team about the Bible is after the jump.

Continue reading Obama to Be Sworn in Using Lincoln's Bible...

December 10, 2008

Obama: Illinois Governor Should Resign

President-elect Barack Obama urged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign from office, Obama's spokesman said in a statement today.

"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Governor Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the Governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Reader Brad Flora sent me this link from the Windy City about how members of the Eastern Orthodox church aren't excited to be linked to Blagojevich. Here's a portion from Kate Shellnutt:

Today, though, Serbian Americans - and even more broadly, members of the Eastern Orthodox church - aren't pleased to see the non-stop news reports about the country's only Serbian Orthodox governor.

Blagojevich now lives in Ravenswood Manor, but he said during an interview for his run for governor that he currently doesn't attend a single church regularly. Still, as the son of Serbian immigrants to Chicago, he remains an icon for the Serbian-American population and remains active in their religious community.

November 18, 2008

Can Obama Call Himself a Christian?

A mini debate has exploded on several blogs over whether President-elect Barack Obama can call himself a Christian.

If you're just catching up, first read this 2004 interview with Obama, but here are the relevant sections.

FALSANI: Who's Jesus to you? (Obama laughs nervously)

OBAMA: Right. Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.

On Sin

FALSANI: What is sin?

OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.

FALSANI: What happens if you have sin in your life?

OBAMA: I think it's the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I'm true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment.

On Hell

Obama: ?There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell.

FALSANI: You don't believe that?

OBAMA: I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup.

On Heaven

FALSANI: Do you believe in heaven?

OBAMA: Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?

FALSANI: A place spiritually you go to after you die?

OBAMA: What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.

Here are just some of the bloggers weighing in.

Joe Carter

1. Obama is not a orthodox Christian. He may call himself a "Christian" in the same way that some Unitarians use the term to refer to themselves. But his beliefs do not seem to be in line with the historic definition.

2. In the 20 years that Obama attended Trinity, did he never hear a clear exposition of the Gospel? Did the Rev. Jeremiah Wright never once preach on the need for a saving faith in Christ? If not, then that is more scandalous than any of the anti-American remarks Wright made from the pulpit.

3. Although I already pray for Obama (as the Bible commands me to do) I now realize that I also need to pray for his eternal soul and not just that he be an effective leader of our nation. I also pray that he will find a spiritual leader who will help lead him to a true knowledge of Christ.

Rod Dreher

Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can't.

Alan Jacobs

So when people say "I am a Christian" I accept them at their word, just as I hope that they accept me at my word when I make the same claim.

But the conversation doesn't have to end there, does it? It seems to me that, having taken President-elect Obama at his word when he claims the Christian faith, we can then go on to discuss what he thinks Christianity is, who he thinks who Jesus is, what obligations he believes a Christian takes on by virtue of being a Christian, and so on. And as that conversation proceeds we might say to him that we think his understanding of Christianity sadly limited, or the place of Christ in his theology to be insufficient and wrong-headed, or whatever.


Daniel Larison

Rod and Carter are correct that by any formal, credal standard of traditional Christianity in any confession, Obama is heterodox. It is important to distinguish this from the more loaded question of whether or not he is a Christian. It is relatively easy to demonstrate heterodoxy, but more difficult to show non-Christianity, and this is as it should be.

Ross Douthat

Now it's true that if he had been asked about Christ's nature, Bush - or Ronald Reagan, to take another conservative President with an idiosyncratic religious sensibility - might have given a more Nicaean answer than Obama did in the interview in question. But then again maybe not! (And God only knows what John McCain, the most pagan Presidential contender we've had in some time, might have said.)

Andrew Sullivan

The Incarnation is just such a bridge and a mystery. I guess I find a modern Christianity that is not attuned to that mystery, not willing to reimagine and undergo God in ways that may not always merely repeat orthodoxy to be ... well, moribund as a faith. I don't think Obama's engagement with it to be unChristian, merely modern.

Tony Jones

So I'll end with this: It seems that there is one sine qua non for Christianity, and it was articulated by St. Paul in Romans 10:9,
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And it is abundantly clear that Barack Obama has, on many occasions, affirmed that Jesus is Lord.

I have nothing to offer, except to offer our readers a place to comment (on theology, not Obama's politics).

November 17, 2008

What Church Should Obama Attend?

As Barack Obama scopes out his family's new home, most of the buzz seems to be focused on his daughters' education.

But Amy Sullivan at Time wants to know where Obama plans to go to church. Sullivan cleverly interviews a few who offer their advice.

On the short list? People's Congregational Church, Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Church of the Epiphany, Washington Community Fellowship, and Memorial Chapel at Fort Myer.

Is there an obvious choice? What do you think?

November 14, 2008

Will Obama Pass the Genocide Test?

The situation in east Africa is already evolving into a major test of the world's resolve to prevent another genocide from developing.

This time, it's eastern DR Congo. This region of the world has proven to be a safe haven for militias of all kinds, including groups responsible in part for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

This area of eastern Africa has been the setting for some of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. Think Darfur, genocide in Rwanda, Burundi, the LRA killings in northern Uganda, deadly political reprisals in Kenya.

It has traumatized by HIV, malaria, TB, the list of horrors goes on and on.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden was right: Obama is going to face a major foreign policy test. But the timing is all wrong. The test starts right now, professor Obama. The US and the international community are already looking to Obama for guidance about what to do.

All of Washington is in transition mode. But time marches on. This week, I spoke by phone at length with an very high level foreign policy official under the Bush administration. He is very active in this part of Africa, working for peace implementation.

For global evangelicals, he had some important words, which I will partially quote, where he specifically addressed evangelical advocacy:

The more people who follow what is going on ... the better. The more they’re kicking up dust in the press and with their elected representatives the better. Because my view, Tim, is there are lots of things the United States of America has to deal with, a lot of things at home as this economic meltdown shows, and also a lot of challenges beyond our shores. And the first priority of this President and the President-elect is our national security and protecting vital interests.

One can argue these issues of moral necessity are less compelling. What’s made America great are the values and the faith upon which we were founded. Therefore, those values and that faith have to animate our foreign policy. But they get crowded off the stage by the immediate.

If it’s mischief by Russia in Georgia, if it’s Ahmadinejad in Iran trying to get nuclear weapons, the list goes on ... Our humanity and, frankly, the American ideal compel us to deal with difficult issues especially when it grows to the point where you have massive ethnic cleansing and genocide.

So my view is the more people that are raising Cain the better. And the more they do to try to get members of the House and Senate to raise Cain the better, I think 99 percent of Americans fundamentally want the same thing even if we disagree on the best way to get there.

We just need to keep some of the Americans engaged and recognize that we have a moral obligation to act.

For starters:

White House comment line: 1-202-456-1111

President George W. Bush: president@whitehouse.gov
Vice President Richard Cheney: vice.president@whitehouse.gov

To my knowledge, the Obama transition team does not have a comment line set up as yet.

If you have ideas for advocacy and action, email me or post them below:

TMorgan@christianitytoday.com


November 11, 2008

Armageddon for Evangelicals?

That provocative title leads the latest podcast discussion between Collin Hansen, a Christianity Today editor at large, and Stan Guthrie, CT's managing editor of special projects.

Collin points to some Bible verses on how Christians should respond (hint, he doesn't encourage people to declare "Armageddon"). But he does say the election has serious consequences and was "very painful" for people fighting against abortion.

Last week, Ted Olsen, CT's managing editor of news & online journalism, gave a helpful overview of the election results.

You can subscribe to the RSS feed, iTunes feed, or search for "Christianity Today" on the iTunes store.

November 8, 2008

Obama Sought Out Controversial Gay Bishop

Joel Hunter wasn't the only religious leader on Barack Obama's list of people to call. Obama also sought out controversial gay bishop Gene Robinson three times during his campaign, Ruth Gledhill of the The Times in London reports.

"The first words out of [Obama's] mouth were: ?Well you're certainly causing a lot of trouble,' My response to him was: ?Well that makes two of us.'" "He said that Mr Obama had indicated his support for equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people and described the election as a "religious experience."

Robinson is the openly gay bishop whose consecration led several Episcopalian conservatives to split from the church.

In other non-political but important religion news, a third diocese split from the church today. The Diocese of Fort Worth, will vote next week on whether to do the same.

November 5, 2008

Obama Election Heals Memories from 1976

In the fall of 1976, I was in the sixth grade in Shreveport, Louisiana, at Claiborne Elementary, a school that had an all-white student population just three years before. By the mid-1970s, the enrollment was half-black.

In that fall’s presidential election, President Ford was running against Jimmy Carter. Our teacher, Mr. Stewart, asked his sixth-graders to write what we thought should be the qualifications to be president of the United States. I wrote something and waited for everybody else to finish.

Sitting at the desk next to me was a black kid. I happened to glance at his paper. He wrote that the president of the United States should be white.

Blacks and whites didn't mix at my school or in my neighborhood except in fighting and insulting each other. Claiborne Elementary wasn’t Shreveport’s only angry place. Shreveport was in the throes of busing and desegregation, and the animosity spilled into the city’s churches. In a large white Baptist congregation not far from my neighborhood, one Sunday morning deacons escorted from the sanctuary some black Christians who had come to worship.

But even as an 11-year-old white girl in this Deep South environment steeped in racism, this black boy’s answer deeply troubled me. Why did he believe the country’s president had to be white?

On November 4, 2008, the world saw that the president doesn't have to be. (In now predominantly black Shreveport, change had come one year before the 2008 general election. On November 7, 2007, my Caddo Parish Magnet High School classmate Cedric Glover became the city’s first black mayor.)

Maybe you're like a lot of white evangelicals who didn't vote for President-elect Obama. That's fine because Senator McCain is still going to be a force to contend with in the US Senate.

But for me, this election has begun to heal some memories and, for all of us, it changes the possibilities.

November 5, 2008

Evangelicals and an Obama Administration

Evangelicals will have to learn to work with Barack Obama's administration, no matter how ecstatic or how disappointed they may be. Here's the story.

By the way, if you're just tuning in, we have tons of posts for you to read. Joel Hunter prayed with Obama, Jim Wallis, Richard Cizik, and Richard Land react, and Ted Olsen made an amazing map of how the evangelical vote broke down. Check this link for election day coverage.

November 5, 2008

Jim Wallis on Holding Obama Accountable

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, plans to hold president-elect Barack Obama accountable for his commitment to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. I spoke with Wallis last night, and here's his take on the evangelical vote, working with an Obama administration, and abortion.

"The important evangelical vote this time is the black church. Black churches are evangelical. They're voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. The most important evangelical vote is the black evangelical vote, not the white evangelical vote. When we talk about the evangelical vote, you've gotta talk about evangelicals of color.

"There are a lot of evangelicals who are willing to engage with an Obama presidency on global poverty, the environment, Darfur, on trafficking, on war and peace in Iraq. The life issue has been defined very narrowly. I voted the way black evangelicals vote for a very long time. It's wonderful to see black evangelicals leading the way this time. The abortion rate does not go down. I think we have a serious chance for an abortion reduction, and I think we have a serious chance with an Obama administration.

"Barack Obama will be held accountable on a serious commitment to abortion reduction. He called for that, his campaign platform said that, and he should be held accountable to that. He needs prayer and accountability, support and pushing, both at the same time."

November 5, 2008

Billy Graham's Reaction

Kevin Eckstrom pulled together reaction from various religious leaders on the Religion News Service Blog.

Here's Billy Graham:

"President-elect Obama faces many challenges, and I urge everyone to join me in pledging our support and prayers and he begins the difficult task ahead."

November 5, 2008

Joel Hunter Prays with Obama Before Acceptance Speech

Evangelical pastor Joel Hunter prayed with president-elect Barack Obama on the phone before Obama gave his acceptance speech last night. (The full interview has been posted here)

Hunter declined to go into details, but said he prayed with Obama and Otis Moss, pastor of Olivet church in Cleveland.

"It was a very sweet time. It was just a very meaningful time that you could tell meant a lot to him. Sen. Obama has done a great job with keeping us in consistent conversation and it really is a good signal that he wants us to be a part of the conversation."

After Hunter prayed at the Democratic National Convention, he declined to give media interviews until after the election. I spoke with him this morning, and he said, "Between the convention and the election, it’s just raw politics, so any moral points you try to make are taken as partisan. That’s why I go quiet."

Hunter is hopeful that evangelicals will have a voice in the Obama administration.

"I think we’re going to be invited into many conversations. He is a consensus-oriented type of leader. We need to be able to respond to those invitations to those given. Part of our role is to speak truth to power. That certainly is part of our role. The most effective way of doing that is not to be so narrow and combative. It’s to be part of the conversation. It’s not to back down on any moral convictions that we have. By the same token, we’ve got to understand that we can be much more effective in getting our point across and realizing our goals if that prophetic language comes with a degree of understanding and respect."

Hunter pastors a church in Florida, where a gay-marriage ban passed last night.

"The moral agenda is not going to change. The outcome is a firm statement, at least from the folks in Florida, that we want to protect marriage as between a man and a woman. By the same token, we have to be careful that we can still treat with respect and some sympathy those who want to build a legal relationship."

November 5, 2008

Al Mohler on Race, the Unborn, and Obama

The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's discusses how the election of an African-American as president "transcends politics and touches the heart of the American people":

That victory is a hallmark moment in history for all Americans -- not just for those who voted for Sen. Obama. As a nation, we will never think of ourselves the same way again. Americans rich and poor, black and white, old and young, will look to an African-American man and know him as President of the United States. The President. The only President. The elected President. Our President.

On other social issues, Mohler says, conservative Christians "face awesome battles ahead":

On issue after issue, we face a longer, harder, and more protracted struggle than ever before. ... This is no time for surrender or the abandonment of our core principles. We face a much harder struggle ahead, but we have no right to abandon the struggle."

November 4, 2008

Richard Land: The Economy Took up all the Oxygen in the Room

Richard Land said yesterday that if Barack Obama were elected, it will not be with new evangelical votes. Early polls suggest Land may be correct, with evangelicals falling around 72-26 percent for John McCain. Earlier this evening, I spoke with Land, who is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

My first reaction is that there’s something really good about our country and something we ought to celebrate that an African American has been elected president. John McCain was running against an economic tsunami. The economy took up all the oxygen in the room.

The marriage amendment in Florida is passing by the required 60 percent. That’s good news. It’s very likely that the marriage amendment is going to pass in all three states, which is good news for defenders of traditional marriage.

Evangelicals did their part. The exit polling is showing that there’s no drop-off among evangelicals. The 2006 elections showed us that evangelicals can’t win elections by themselves. If indeed the three marriage initiatives win, it will show that the values voters were not the ones who lost this election.

If evangelicals are sad about the election, I’m going to say, 'Do you have faith in God? Is your faith in God or in government?'

Obama voted as an extreme liberal. He campaigned as a centrist. We’ll have to see how he governs. We’ll find that out in the next few months.

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November 4, 2008

The Awesome Blue God -- How Obama Forged A New Faith Coalition

Though the economy clearly was the defining issue of the election, Obama forged a new coalition by luring millions of religious voters who had avoided Democrats in recent years.

In short:

He narrowed the God Gap. Bush beat Kerry among weekly church-goers by 61%-39%. McCain is beating Obama 54%-44% Most of that gain appears to have come from Protestants rather than Catholics

He won Catholics back. Early exit polls indicate he won 54% of the Catholic vote compared to 45% for John McCain. George W. Bush won the Catholic vote 52%-46%. Most of those gains came from Catholics who don't attend mass weekly.

He also improved among white Catholics, according to the early exit polls. Bush got 56%-43% As of now, McCain lead by just 51%-49% This was despite an aggressive push by more than 50 Bishops to encourage Catholics to focus on abortion as the central issue.

Real improvements among Evangelicals. Evangelicals and Born Again Christians made up a greater portion of the electorate this year than last election but that didn't all accrue to McCain's benefit, as predict. Obama improved slightly on a national level, getting 25% compared to Kerry's 21%

But far more important, he made significant progress in the pivotal rustbelt states that won him the election. For instance, evangelicals flooded the polls in Ohio and Obama significantly improved on Kerry's showing.

Some gains among Mainline Protestants -- Though shifting toward the center in recent years, mainline Protestants -- once a core of the Republican party -- - still went for the Republicans in 2004. The exit polls didn't ask specifically about mainline Protestants but it appears Obama improved slightly with this group.

Big gains among lightly religious. Though secular voters already voted Democratic, they did so by an even bigger margin this year. Even more important, a quarter of the electorate says they go to worship services but only a few times a year. Kerry won that group with 54%-45%. Obama won 61%-38%

That's what happened. Here's HOW he did it:

Continue reading The Awesome Blue God -- How Obama Forged A New Faith Coalition...

November 4, 2008

Networks Call It For Obama

TV networks have called the 2008 race for Barack Obama, who becomes the first African American to win the presidency.

CNN
MSNBC
Fox News
ABC News

Update: The New York Times has also called the race.

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November 4, 2008

Election Day Pride

This is truly a historic day for all of us, whatever the outcome.

This morning at my local polling place the line was much longer than usual. I live in a well-heeled, strongly Republican suburb of Chicago. So while Barack Obama is the "local candidate," I don't expect him to carry DuPage County, which I call home.

To my knowledge Barack Obama has asked no one to vote for him based on his race, yet there is no denying that this is a key issue for some of his supporters. For example, a poll I saw the other day said 97 percent of African Americans plan to vote for the Illinois senator. This figure of support is hard for me to fathom, given that many African-American voters care about "family values" issues, and Obama's liberal legislative record - particularly his staunch support for abortion rights and his ambiguity on gay unions - seems to run counter to those values.

For me, experience, judgment, and agenda should easily trump race for voters. As Martin Luther King Jr. said four decades ago, we ought to be judged on the content of our character, not the color of our skin.

As the line I stood in this morning slowly snaked around to the voting booths set up next to the gym wall in one of our local churches, I noticed an African-American woman a few places ahead of me slowly, carefully marking her ballot. She wore a faded blue headband that had seen many seasons. She had on a pair of black athletic shoes, jeans, and a nondescript shirt. Her vote, if the polls are to be believed, was almost certainly going to go for Obama. The woman was definitely not a typical wealthy DuPage County resident, but here she was, her vote counting as much as anyone else's.

As I waited behind this woman I tried to imagine what this day must mean for her. She looked to be around 60 and so could likely remember the days in our country when discrimination against minorities was much more rampant than it is today. How proud she must have felt on the day when an African-American man was running for president of the United States.

As someone who has dealt with disability my entire life, I remember the pride and joy I felt when Sarah Palin gave her acceptance speech in Minneapolis, highlighting her support for special-needs children. Perhaps this feeling faintly echoes the excitement felt by African Americans and others at Obama's candidacy. As I replaced this woman in the voting booth I felt pride in how far my country has come.

In God's providence I missed living through the days of slavery, Jim Crow, race riots, and other horrors. America indeed still has a lot of problems within and challenges without. But perhaps Obama's candidacy (and, if God wills, his victory) will enable us to turn the page on these sad chapters of our history and begin to more perfectly live up to our best ideals. This is truly a historic day for all of us, whatever the outcome.

God, bless this woman. And bless America, too.

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November 3, 2008

Obama's Grandmother Dies

Sen. Barack Obama's ailing grandmother died of cancer, his campaign announced today. He left the campaign trail two weeks ago to visit her in Hawaii.

From The Washington Post, here's a statement from Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng:

"It is with great sadness that we announce that our grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has died peacefully after a battle with cancer. She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure.

"Our family wants to thank all of those who sent flowers, cards, well-wishes, and prayers during this difficult time. It brought our grandmother and us great comfort. Our grandmother was a private woman, and we will respect her wish for a small private ceremony to be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation to any worthy organization in search of a cure for cancer."

Dunham took care of Obama during his teen years, and the candidate has often spoken of how his grandmother was an integral figure in his life.

"She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life," he said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. "She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well."

November 3, 2008

Obama's Abortion Straightjacket

Should he win, Obama will need to early on figure out how to get out of a political straight jacket of his own making: on abortion. His challenge will not be traversing the political parties but two Democratic constituencies who both worked hard for him and want very different things.

For the last few months, pro-life progressives have pushed hard the idea that Obama would help reduce the number of abortions through common ground efforts to help women avoid pregnancy or carry babies to term.

One group ran ads in battleground states explaining that Democrats could reduce abortion more than Republicans. Another argued against banning abortion as imprtactical and said abortions could be reduced if policies provided medical and financial care that would help women "choose life."

Pro-life progressives have publically assured voters that Obama would be committed to reducing the number of abortions.

On the other hand, Obama said early in the campaign that his first act as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a fairly radical bill that would wipe out state abortion restrictions. Pro-choice groups have worked hard for Obama, too, and take that commitment seriously.

How will he bridge that gulf?

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

November 3, 2008

Just When You Think Jeremiah Wright Was So Last Spring

What if Wright played a bigger role in the campaign? That's what Politico wants to know today.

John McCain refused to bring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright up in ads, even at the frustration of some in his own party. Wright was Barack Obama's long-time pastor until controversial videos were posted on YouTube. Obama resigned his membership in May and broke ties with his pastor.

The Pennsylvania GOP has created this ad, not with McCain's approval.



The Boston Globe
's Michael Paulson found an interesting entry in the ecumenical newsletter Vital Theology. Vincent E. Bacote, an associate professor of theology at Wheaton College:

"Jeremiah’s Wright’s theology is a progressive gospel which has a tight focus on the context of the African-American community. While not excluding others, it emphasizes the flourishing of African Americans in a context that has been hostile for most of U.S. history. In light of Wright’s background theologically and the church’s identity denominationally, this should surprise no one. The rhetoric in the video clips reflects, on the one hand, prophetic preaching that is also found in more conservative circles where America is given a warning because of certain sins (like abortion). On the other hand, whether hyperbolic or not, some of the words may mask rather than reveal Wright’s theology, because some hearers may attend more to controversy than God’s liberating activity."

The Chicago Tribune's Manya Brachear visited Obama's former church and writes that the congregation is ready for it to be Wednesday. Ah yes, ready for Wednesday.

October 29, 2008

Effigies of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama Found

Another effigy of Barack Obama was found this morning at the University of Kentucky, just a few weeks after one was found at George Fox University.

Earlier this week, an effigy of Sarah Palin with a noose around its neck that was hung at a home in West Hollywood, California as part of a Halloween display.

Update: Another effigy of Obama was reported in Southern Indiana Wednesday night.

October 27, 2008

Plans to assassinate Obama disrupted

The Associated Press just posted this alert:

The ATF says it has broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree. In court records unsealed Monday, agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target an unnamed but predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads.

October 24, 2008

An Obama administration, in the eyes of Focus on the Family Action

Focus on the Family Action posted a pretend letter in which a writer signed "A Christian from 2012" looks back on a Barack Obama administration in 2012, including terrorists attacks on four U.S. cities.

The letter proposes these scenarios:
-The Supreme Court would lean liberal
-Churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages would lose their tax-exempt status
-"under God" in the Pledge would be declared unconstitutional
-Doctors and nurses who won't perform abortions will no longer be able to deliver babies
-Pornography would be openly displayed on newsstands
-Inner-city crime increases when gun ownership is restricted
-Homeschooling would become restricted, so thousands of homeschooling parents emigrate to other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
- "Since 2009, terrorist bombs have exploded in two large and two small U.S. cities, killing
hundreds, and the entire country is fearful, for no place seems safe."
-Euthanasia is becoming more and more common.
-New carbon emission standards drive many coal-powered electric plants out of business. "The country has less total electric power available than in 2008, and periodic blackouts to conserve energy occur on a regular schedule throughout the nation."

"After many of these decisions, especially those that restricted religious speech in public places, President Obama publicly expressed strong personal disapproval of the decision and said that the Supreme Court had gone far beyond what he ever expected," the letter reads.

It suggests that younger evangelicals were the tipping point for Obama's pretend victory.

"Many Christians voted for Obama ? younger evangelicals actually provided him with the needed margin to defeat John McCain ? but they didn't think he would really follow through on the far-Left policies that had marked his career. They were wrong," the letter says.

The author also proposes that every conservative talk show would have to be followed by an instant rebuttal to the program by a liberal "watchdog" group and eventually shut down by 2010. Another hypothetical scenario is that because no Christian is willing to write books critical of homosexuality, many Christian publishers go out of business.

The author suggests that Bush administration officials who had involvement with the Iraq war would be put in jail.

The author writes, "Many brave Christian men and women tried to resist these laws, and some Christian legal agencies tried to defend them, but they couldn't resist the power of a 6-3 liberal majority on the Supreme Court. It seems many of the bravest ones went to jail or were driven to bankruptcy. And many of their reputations have been destroyed by a relentless press and the endless repetition of false accusations."

This is part of the introduction:

Some will respond to this letter by saying, "Well, I hope hardship and even persecution come to the church. It will strengthen the church!" But hoping for suffering is wrong. It is similar to saying, "I hope I get some serious illness because it will strengthen my faith." Jesus taught us to pray the opposite: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13). Paul urged us to pray not for persecution but "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). So Christians should hope and pray that such difficult times do not come. But if they do come, then it will be right to trust God to bring good out of them and also bring them to an end.

Here's a video defending the letter:

(h/t Bob Smietana)

October 23, 2008

Getting political with pumpkins

My roommate and I are carving pumpkins tonight, so it's convenient that I stumbled upon the Associated Press' political pumpkin kit. There's also yeswecarve.com for Barack Obama and a page here set aside for John McCain.

Update: Yes, there was a nonpartisan pumpkin carving. Here are the photos:

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October 21, 2008

Obama's non-Muslim faith

Twelve percent of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, a number that has not decreased since June, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center today.

The Boston Globe's Michael Paulson just posted a video from the American News Project that shows John McCain supporters, some of whom are Muslim, confronting a fellow McCain supporter who claimed that Obama is "a socialist with an Islamic background.'' NPR has a story on how Obama's distance from Muslims is hurting his appeal in Michigan.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama on Sunday and addressed those the rumors that Obama is a Muslim.

"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America."

October 17, 2008

Who's Funnier?

John McCain and Barack Obama poked fun at themselves and each other at the Alfred E. Smith dinner, an annual charity event of the Catholic archdiocese of New York.

The speeches are really fun to watch as the candidates turned off their jabbing tones.

At one point, McCain said, "? maverick I can do, but messiah is above my pay grade."

On a more serious note, McCain praised Smith for his pro-life stance. "Your comfort for the sick and needy, your belief in the dignity of life, especially your gallant defense of the rights of the unborn. I'm proud to count myself as your friend and ally."

Obama followed McCain's messiah mention with, "Contrary to the rumors that you've heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-el to save the planet earth."

Update: The Boston Globe's Michael Paulson notes that John Kerry was not invited to the same event in 2004 because he supports abortion rights.

October 15, 2008

Obama calls his 'cling to guns or religion' comments 'boneheaded'

Sen. Barack Obama called his description of small town Americans - "they cling to guns or religion" - his "biggest boneheaded move."

Obama's original comments were made in April at a fundraiser in San Francisco and have followed him ever since The Huffington Post published them. He was describing his difficulty with winning over working-class voters in Pennsylvania.

"And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said.

Obama described the comments as boneheaded during an interview with The New York Times set to be published Sunday.

"I mean, part of what I was trying to say to that group in San Francisco was, ?You guys need to stop thinking that issues like religion or guns are somehow wrong,' " Obama told the Times. "Because, in fact, if you've grown up and your dad went out and took you hunting, and that is part of your self-identity and provides you a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in your economic life, then that's going to be pretty important, and rightfully so. And if you're watching your community lose population and collapse but your church is still strong and the life of the community is centered around that, well then, you know, we'd better be paying attention to that."


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October 9, 2008

Younger Evangelicals More Progressive on Issues. On Candidates, Not So Much.

One of the big takeaways from [yesterday]'s new poll on religious voters is that white evangelicals under 35 are a lot more progressive than their parents, by a number of different measures. It's worth noting that abortion is not one of them:

More than six-in-ten (62%) say abortion is very important to their vote, compared to 55% of older evangelicals. Young white evangelicals are also strongly opposed to abortion rights, with approximately one-third saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time--almost identical to the percentage of older evangelicals.

But gay rights and diplomacy and other issues are are a much different story:

On the issue of same-sex marriage, by contrast, the influence of their generational peers is clear. Nearly four-in-ten young evangelicals say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian--a rate approximately the same as all young adults and more than double the rate of older evangelicals. Among older evangelicals, nearly half (49%) say same-sex marriage is an important voting issue, and a strong majority (61%) say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship. Among younger white evangelicals, however, less than a majority see same-sex marriage as a very important voting issue, and a majority (52%) favor either same-sex marriage or civil unions. The generation gap is largest on the issue of marriage, where younger white evangelicals are more than 2.5 times as likely to support same-sex marriage than older white evangelicals.

Despite their conservative views on abortion and stereotypes as single-issue voters, like older white evangelicals, young white evangelicals have a voting agenda that is much broader than abortion and same-sex marriage. Fully two-thirds of younger evangelicals say they would still vote for a candidate even if the candidate disagreed with them on the issue of abortion. Younger evangelicals rank a number of other issues, such as economic issues, terrorism, and Iraq higher than abortion, and roughly equal numbers say that health care is a very important voting issue as say abortion.

....A majority (56%) of younger evangelicals believe that diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace, compared to only 44% of older white evangelicals. Finally, younger white evangelicals are more likely than older white evangelicals to favor a bigger government offering more services by a margin of 20 points (44% and 24% respectively).

And yet that leftward lurch on issues doesn't translate into as dramatic a shift on the candidates:

Like older evangelicals, younger evangelicals strongly identify with the Republican Party and support John McCain, but levels of support among younger evangelicals were modestly lower for McCain (65% vs. 69%) and higher for Barack Obama (29% vs. 25%). Like their generational peers, younger evangelicals are also significantly less likely to identify as conservative than older evangelicals.

So what gives? A few analysts on this morning's Faith in Public Life call pinned Obama's failure to peel off more young evangelical voters from John McCain on a lackluster effort to reach those voters by the Obama team.

That doesn't wash with God-o-Meter. Obama's religious outreach director is himself a 26-year-old Pentecostal. The Obama camp's current faith tour is built largely around sending evangelical author Donald Miller to evangelical campuses like Calvin College and to campuses in evangelical strongholds, such as Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

An Obama aide says the campaign's religious outreach team had no illusions about being able to make major inroads into the evangelical world: "Our outreach is concentrated in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. We're talking to moderate faith voters broadly, often more to Mainline Protestants than evangelicals. Bush won Mainliners in 2004 so that's been a focus. We're winning Catholics and Mainliners and Latino evangelicals, and we've increased over 2004 among evangelicals while McCain has dropped a few points."

But it's undeniable that evangelical outreach has been a major focus of Obama's effort. So what's the real reason his evangelical outreach has paid such patry dividends?

(Originally posted at Beliefnet's God-o-Meter)

October 6, 2008

Ohiobama

As Michigan goes, so goes Ohio? The big (2,262 likely voters) Columbus Dispatch Ohio poll, showing Obama up 49-42, has Buckeye Catholics flipping from 55-44 for Bush in 2004 to 49-44 for Obama. Protestants are just about where they were four years ago; unfortunately, the poll does not break out evangelicals. Jews prefer Obama 66-31--within hailing distance of the 70 percent mark I'm predicting. And note this. Among the 10 percent of Ohio voters who profess no religion, Bush dropped nine percentage points from 2000 to 2004, to 29 percent. McCain now stands 15 points below that. Other than African Americans (also 10 percent of the voting population), no voting bloc is more pro-Obama.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics)

October 2, 2008

Poll: 4 in 10 evangelicals say Palin not experienced

About four in 10 white evangelical Protestants say Sarah Palin does not have the necessary experience to be an effective president, according to a recent poll conducted by Washington Post-ABC News.

Last weekend, two in 10 evangelicals planned to vote Barack Obama, according to survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

October 2, 2008

Four students suspended at George Fox over Obama stunt

NEWBERG, Ore. - Four students at George Fox University confessed to hanging an effigy of Sen. Barack Obama from a tree on campus and were suspended for up to a year, school officials announced Tuesday.

The students names were not released.

Other sanctions include community service and multicultural education, which must be completed before the students can return to campus, said Brad Lau, vice president of student life.

The students were singled out during a campus investigation late last week as those responsible for hanging a life-size cardboard cutout from a tree on campus with a sign saying "Act Six reject."

Act Six is a scholarship and leadership program for Portland students, many of whom are minorities.

"These students were very sorry and deeply grieved by the impact of this event," Lau said. "Regardless of their intentions, the image of a black man hanging from a tree is one of the most hurtful racist symbols of our history."

Lau declined to give any details about the investigation or the possible motivation of the four students.

The 3,355-student Christian university, which was founded by Quaker pioneers in 1891, stopped short of dismissing the students permanently. The campus is "a redemptive community, and we allow for the possibility of change," Lau said.

The FBI is continuing its investigation into possible civil rights violations, including whether the display intimidated minority students in exercising their federal rights, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said.

Vanessa Wilkins, a 19-year-old sophomore in the Act Six program, said she is satisfied with the level of punishment of the four students. "I don't think they knew how far it would go," she said. "They didn't understand the repercussions of their actions. I don't believe the students thought this all the way through."

Related Elsewhere: Christian college president denounces Obama effigy

September 25, 2008

Obama Religious Reps Bow Out of Debate with McCain Team

Family Research Council Action is alerting constituents that a senior Barack Obama advisor on religious issues bowed out of a high-profile debate with a counterpart from the McCain campaign yesterday:

People hoping for a lively discussion on faith and values from Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) campaign were surprised yesterday when Team Obama failed to show for a media-heavy debate. The capacity crowd that gathered at the Capitol Hill Club had expected Obama's Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs, Rev. Evna Terri La Velle, to square off with Bob Heckman, a representative from Sen. John McCain's campaign. Just hours before the lunchtime event began, members of the sponsoring organizations, the National Clergy Council and Evangelical Church Alliance, received word that Obama's delegation of 11 had backed out. Rev. Rob Schenck, who was scheduled to moderate the debate, released a statement questioning the Obama campaign's genuine commitment to issues of concern to social conservatives. "Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean assured me...that his party would do everything possible to constructively engage Evangelicals, traditional Catholics, and other moral conservatives... Barack Obama has made similar promises. They did a couple of high-profile media events, but it appears they were not serious at a grassroots level." While the Illinois senator and his campaign never shy away from talking about faith, they have missed opportunities to let that faith be examined up close to determine how it would impact their public policy positions.

The Obama campaign had no comment, but didn't contest FRC Action's version of events. For conservative Christian groups that are eager to prove that Obama's religious outreach is empty talk, the Obama team just made their job a little easier.

(Originally posted at Beliefnet's God-o-Meter)

September 24, 2008

Obama waffle story won't die

James Dobson scolded Whoopi Goldberg and ABC's "The View" for linking him and Focus on the Family to Obama Waffles, a product sold at the Values Voter Summit earlier this month (See CT's earlier coverage).

Goldberg linked Obama Waffles to Focus on the Family last week on their show.

"We had absolutely nothing to do with the Obama Waffles," Dobson said. "This is a classic example of the liberal media attempting to marginalize us and other conservative voices in a political season."

David Waters writes on the Washington Post website:

"Conservative bias meet liberal bias. Goldberg and company apparently didn't bother to check whether Dobson actually was involved in the gag (he wasn't). Dobson didn't bother to mention that the two men who created Obama Waffles used to work for Focus on the Family."

September 24, 2008

Is it The Internet's Fault that More and More People Think Obama is Muslim?

Last March when polls reported that 10% of the population thought Barack Obama was Muslim, I counseled calm: Obama is a new character on the scene. As people get to know him, that percentage will decline.

Instead, it's gone up. The newest poll from the Pew Research Center showed that 13% now believe he's Muslim - and a staggering 19% of McCain supporters believe him to be Muslim. Only 48% of Republicans say Obama is Christian (the balance is unsure).

This is truly frightening - not so much because of the implications for Obama but because of what it says about how we as Americans consume information. With more time, and more information swimming about, the public has become progressively less well informed.

To some extent this is about the politicization of mainstream media. Increasingly, people gravitate to the media sources that confirm their preconceived notions - Fox and Rush and WND.com for conservatives and Olberman and Kos for liberals. If that's true, that represents a searing indictment of conservative media - for either promoting or failing to shoot down a blatant falsehood. (There may be counter examples on the liberal media; please post if you have them).

But this can't be the whole explanation. After all, the percentage of independents who think Obama is Muslim also rose from 8% to 14%.

Then I noticed this: the biggest increase in the percentage who think he's Muslim was among young people. Only 8% of people from 18-29 believed he's Muslim in March. Now, 17% do. By contrast, among those 65 and older, the percentage who thought he was Muslim actually dropped during this period.

What's the biggest differentiator between those groups when it comes to news consumption? The internet. Younger people get their information online. Older people still use print.

As the editor of a website, I hate to even suggest this but is it possible that this Muslim factoid provides chilling proof that web-dependent news consumers end up more poorly informed than in the olden days? Is it possible that all the fuddy-duddy old media people who warned about the internet dumbing us all down were right?

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

September 22, 2008

The Disappearance of Obama's Abortion Reduction Plan: One Political Theory

At the Saddleback Forum, Obama boasted, accurately, about how he'd stuck a sentence into the Democratic platform encouraging support for women who wanted to take a baby to term instead of having an abortion. Pro-life progressives hailed that sentence as a great victory and sign that he might be able to win over moderate evangelicals and Catholics with this new "third way" approach.

Then, the first abortion ads put out by the Obama campaign, didn't mention abortion reduction.

Last week, they put out a second abortion ad, this one trying to deal with the charge that Obama supports infanticide. They had two different (not mutually exclusive) ways they could have gone: Show themselves to be abortion moderates by emphasizing abortion reduction, or show McCain to be an anti-abortion extremist by emphasizing the Republican platform. The Obama campaign chose the second path. Again, no mention of abortion reduction.

Meanwhile, I picked up a copy of the Obama campaign's "Plan to Renew America's Promise." Though it mentions reducing unintended pregnancies, it dropped the sentence about helping women carry babies to term.

My uninformed theory on what's happened:there was always a tension for them between two goals: 1) appealing to pro-choice moderate women and 2) appealing to pro-life moderate evangelicals and Catholics. They've now concluded:

Winning moderate evangelicals is hopeless and, it turns out, centrist Catholics just dont care all that much abortion. Given that, it makes more political sense to reach out to those pro-choice women.

Of course this obviously leaves them open to charges that they didn't believe in abortion reduction all that much in the first place.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

September 19, 2008

Obama campaign pitches faith tour to journalists

Barack Obama's campaign is reaching out to religious voters, and they want religion journalists to know it.

Obama's faith outreach coordinator Joshua DuBois and evangelical outreach coordinator Shaun Casey pitched the "Faith, Family, and Values Tour" to reporters at the Religion Newswriters Association today, which CT reported last night.

DuBois used an August Barna poll as support for why he believes more evangelicals are supporting Obama. Trinity College professor Mark Silk questioned this poll earlier. The press conference was held shortly after John Green presented on his research, which found that Obama was not making inroads among evangelicals. Casey says he sees more support for Obama among young evangelicals, but he says he will wait for the experts to quantify it after the election.

Former Orlando Sentinel religion reporter Mark Pinsky questioned Barna data’s reliability and said he saw no evidence among young evangelicals in central Florida supporting Obama.

Debra Mason, executive director of RNA, asked why religion journalists have a hard time get a call back from the Obama campaign and the crowd of journalists seemed to murmur an amen. DuBois said he is not on the communications team and wants to continue dialoging.

DuBois declined to say what the campaign’s budget is for faith outreach. Casey said they don’t do direct mail through church directories, something that President Bush’s campaign did in 2004.

Once again, it seems that John McCain's religious outreach takes a much quieter approach, as Mason emphasized that she reached out to his campaign as well.

September 19, 2008

Obama's evangelical outreach not working, survey shows

Barack Obama has made few inroads into the evangelical vote compared to 2004, according to a study released at the Religion Newswriters Association conference today.

As a group, evangelicals favor McCain over Obama 57.2 percent to 19.9 percent as a group, which is similar to the support they gave to Bush (60.4%) and Kerry (19.6%) in 2004.

In the study, John Green of the University of Akron reported evangelicals' support for McCain depending on their category: traditionalist (71.6%), centrist (53.9%), and modernist (35.6%).

Nearly half (45.6%) of evangelicals listed economics as a top priority for in deciding their vote. 22 percent listed foreign policy and 20.4 percent listed social issues as top priorities. Green said that opinions on abortion have not changed since 2004.

"Although social issues are less important, they continue to resonate in the evangelical community," said Green, who is also the senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "The Obama campaign has not yet been able to overcome that."

Thirty-seven percent of evangelicals preferred McCain strongly in the survey, which was conducted before Gov. Sarah Palin was chosen as his running mate.

September 19, 2008

Pro-life group attacks Obama campaign faith tour

The president of the Susan B. Anthony List attacked Barack Obama campaign's new effort to reach religious voters in battleground states.

"Barack Obama knows his extreme record on abortion doesn't resonate with everyday American voters, so now he's trying to soften his image with a so-called 'values tour,'" President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. "It is cynical - because religious language without the actions to support it is so transparently empty. If you can't save one of the 'least of these' - a dying baby who survives an abortion - because you see it as a 'burden,' one wonders who is really at the heart of your faith."

The Susan B. Anthony List will invest $6 million to target 1.4 million pro-life women voters through mail, radio, and phone-banking across eight battleground states: Colorado, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

September 18, 2008

Obama campaign launching faith tour

Barack Obama's campaign enlisted evangelical author Donald Miller on a tour through battleground states called "Barack Obama: Faith, Family and Values Tour," a campaign official told Christianity Today.

Miller, Pepperdine University professor Doug Kmiec, and former Indiana Congressman pro-life Democrat Tim Roemer will speak to groups in community centers and gyms before taking questions. They plan to talk about where Obama and his running mate Joe Biden stand on issues like poverty and abortion.

The tour will begin next week and will last for about a month in states like Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Obama campaign has done several of these tours in the past, including a 10-day "40 Days of Faith and Family" in South Carolina and a 10-day faith tour in Iowa last fall. The campaign official said that previous tours were focused more on fact finding and this tour will focus more on why people of faith and values support Obama.

Miller prayed at the Democratic National Convention after Relevant Magazine Editor Cameron Strang backed out. Here is an earlier CT interview with Miller about what issues the Democratic Party should tackle.

September 15, 2008

Believers unbuttoned

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A few hours ago, I blogged about the Obama campaign's new faith merchandise, noting that the campaign uses the fish outline, a symbol used by Christians.

A faithful reader of the blog pointed out that the buttons are no longer for sale. The website where supporters could purchase the button now says, "You do not have access to this page. Please contact customer service for further details on accessing this password protected section."

The "Believers for Obama" sticker is still selling for $3 and the rally sign is selling for $2.50, but they don't have the fish symbol on it. The campaign has not responded yet on why it was pulled down.

September 15, 2008

Capitalizing on the faith vote

The Obama campaign just launched a line of merchandise, most of which specifically target Christians.

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The campaign is selling "Believers for Barack," "Pro-Family Pro-Obama," and "Catholics for Obama" buttons and bumper stickers for $3 each and signs for $2.50 each.

The "Believers for Barack" button includes the ichthys, the fish outline that became a secret symbol for persecuted Christians in the early church.

"When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes," Elesha Coffman wrote for Christian History, CT's sister publication.

Also, I've only heard "believers" apply only to Christians. The campaign seems to be targeting Christians specifically, since it usually uses broader terms like "people of faith."

September 13, 2008

Vendors asked to leave Values Voter Summit

Two men who were trying to lighten the mood by selling "Obama Waffles" were asked to leave this afternoon after protesters found the boxes racist.

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Men from Tennessee traveled to the Values Voter Summit to sell yellow boxes of waffle mix that portray a caricature of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama with a Muslim-like headdress and says "Point box toward Mecca for tastier waffles." The cover of the box portrays a caricature of Obama's face next to waffles, which three protesters from American Atheists found offensive.

Eric Herrman from American Atheists said the box was racist because it conjures up images of Aunt Jemima, the woman portrayed on a syrup bottle.

"Let's say we sold a pig lipstick product, we probably have to leave for the same reason," Herrman said as he handed out literature outside the Hilton Hotel. "A caribou barbie doll would be considered so sexist."

Herrman and two others from the organization said they sent reporters down to look at the waffle mix. When they found out that the vendors were asked to leave, they high fived each other.

Spokesman for Family Research Council J.P. Duffy said that those in the organization did not look closely at the box until someone brought it up. Duffy said the executive director thinks the box is racist and if Joe Biden were portrayed, it would have been fine.

"He thought it was just about Obama waffling on the issues. We had no idea until looking at it closely what was on the box," Duffy said. "It's just that this could be taken offensively."

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The booth was set up yesterday and displayed large posters of what was on the front and back of the waffle box. Several organizations like Summit Ministries and the Witherspoon Fellowship set up booths, but the booth selling waffles was the only satire product.

"We have dozens of booths and we don't know what kind of material they have. Obviously we don't necessarily approve of the material," Duffy said. "We may have given them permission to purchase a booth, but if there's anything like that that crosses the line, we ask them to cease and they did."

Bob DeMoss, who created the product and said the boxes have been called racist before, packed up his boxes this afternoon.

"What’s wrong with Aunt Jemima? I always looked at that as a symbol of quality. Betty Crocker or Emeril’s are made up characters. They don't get it." he said. "It's unfortunate; they have their freedom of speech and it'd be nice if we had ours."

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DeMoss said that some have been offended by the top of the box.

"Does he have Muslim roots or not? That's a legitimate question. That might offend somebody, but you know what, that's part of the political satire and we're raising the question," DeMoss of of Franklin, Tennessee said. "I'm not questioning where his soul is today, he denies he has any Muslim roots at all. There seems to be contrary evidence to that."

A caricature of Rev. Jeremiah Wright is portrayed on the side as a missing person above "Popular sayings: 'God d*** America' and "Made in the US of KKA." Obama broke ties with his former pastor after portions of Wright's sermons were aired in the media.

"He waffled on the friendship and it's like, well wait a minute," DeMoss said. "You were comfortable for 20 years sitting in the pew, but now you're saying 'I don't want anything to do with you.'"

DeMoss didn't know how many had sold at $10 a piece but said, "They're selling like hotcakes." One man from Ohio bought 10 boxes before his booth was shut down. He began making the boxes six weeks ago and said Books-A-Million already plans to sell them on their shelves.

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"We're just trying to have a satirical look at it. We're trying to add some humor to the entire exchange," he said. "Letterman and Leno, the New York Times and Newsweek did a piece on how you can't make a joke about him. We're like 'Why? It's the public square.'"

Above the nutrition facts, it says "Limitations of use: Not for use in military settings; product has not been field-tested. Results may be undesirable."

To make "Barack Belgium Beauties," the box says to pre-heat waffle iron and "Environmentally conscious consumers should pay two ozone-offset carbon credits to Al Gore's GreenWorld fund."

Underneath, it includes a "Barry's Bling Bling Waffle Ring recipe rap":

"Yo, B-rock here droppin' waffle knowledge
Spellin' it out, 'cause I graduated college
Some say I waffle so fast, Barry's causin' whiplash
Just doin' my part, made wafflin' a fine art
For a waffle wit style, like Chicago's Magnificent Mile
Spray whipped cream around the edge
Shake it first like Sister Sledge
Then say wit me, I can be as waffly as I wanna be!
(That goes out to my Ludacris posse)"


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The back of the box includes a drawing of John Kerry saying "I know a thing or two about wafflin' and I approve this mix" and Michelle Obama saying "For the first time in my adult life I'm proud of an American waffle."

Obama is depicted with a Mexican sombrero above "Open Border Fiesta Waffles." The description says, "The greatest danger of all is to allow walls to divide us. It's time we opened our borders and our wallets to all who desire a taste of reedom. So put out the welcom mat and enjoy this multicultural celebration."

The fiesta waffle description includes a tip: "While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language? Recommended serving: 4 or more illegal aliens"

Photos by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

Continue reading Vendors asked to leave Values Voter Summit...

September 13, 2008

Fired up against Obama

Yesterday was love of Sarah Palin day but the crowd got riled up against Barack Obama this morning.

"Great to see so many bitter Americans. I see you cling to your guns and your bibles," Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said to a cheering crowd.

"How many of you saw Barack Apollo Obama at Obama's Greek temple designed by Britney Spears' set designer?" he said to those in the audience, some of whom wore buttons with "Nobama" and "Obama" crossed out on them. "Barack descended from the heavens, ladies and gentlemen. He descended the multi-talented God of light, the God of sun, God of truth, the God of prophecy, the God of socialized medicine, sent down from heavens to save you."

"I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure Barack Apollo Obama does not become president," Hannity said as the crowd stood applauding and snapping more photos.

September 11, 2008

Nobody Cares?

Fan that I am, methinks pastordan doth protest too much my suggestion that Obama might do well to, well, wrap himself in the UCC's position on abortion. For starters, it seems unnecessarily legalistic to deny that Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ because he recently, under pressure one might say, resigned his membership in his Chicago church. After all, this was the denomination he was baptized into and in which he remained for a couple of decades. And that he shouldn't do so because it would bring back memories of Jeremiah Wright? It's not as if the UCC's pro-choice stance is an expression of black liberation theology.

My point, perhaps not clearly enough expressed the first time around, is that Americans tend to respect each other for abiding by the teachings of their religion. As the Detroit sportswriter put it when Hank Greenberg sat out Yom Kippur during a crucial pennant drive: "We will miss him in the field and we'll miss him at the bat, / but he's true to his religion and we honor him for that."

Religion derives from a Latin word having to do with binding; and the knowledge that a politician is bound by a religious teaching, even if they disagree with that teaching (assuming it is not too far out), has a positive value that makes it easier to accept the politician than if he just came up with the position on his own. pastordan thinks that abortion opponents are so dismissive of liberal denominations like the UCC that this wouldn't cut any ice with them. The question is subject to empirical testing, though I doubt Obama is going to give us a chance to test it in this case.

What really seems to concern pastordan, however, is not that citing UCC authority wouldn't work for Obama but that it shouldn't. In the grand old antinomian congregationalist tradition of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, he writes, "Many many people live perfectly contented lives in UCC churches without a second thought as to what resolutions General Synod has or has not passed. We're just not that into authority." So be it. But it sort of assumes that Obama is still one of them, doesn't it?

(Originally posted at Spiritual Politics)

September 8, 2008

Me, My Church, and I

Referring to Barack Obama's "above my pay grade" response to Rick Warren at the Saddleback forum last month, Tom Brokaw asked Joe Biden on Meet the Press yesterday how he would instruct his ticketmate on the question of when life begins. "I'd say," Biden said:

"Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

The role of a church's teaching in American electoral politics is a complex thing. Back in 1960, John F. Kennedy had to make clear that he would not take orders from the pope, and pointedly disagreed with the American Catholic hierarchy on its two top priority issues: aid to parochial schools and an ambassador to the Vatican. Forty-four years later, disagreeing with his church on abortion put John Kerry crossways with the very same people--conservative evangelicals--who were troubled by JFK's Catholicism.

The JFK/Kerry contrast is easy enough to follow. A subtler situation is that of Virginia's Catholic Gov. Tim Kaine, who made it clear, in his 2005 race, that his opposition to the death penalty was rooted in his Catholicism; and that seemed a lot easier for the very pro-death penalty electorate to stomach than if he had simply declared that he was against the death penalty because he believed it was wrong. As Princeton's wise old scholar of American religious history John Wilson likes to point out, pointing to the teachings of one's religion is as likely to ease tension over policy differences among citizens as to exacerbate them.

So what I'm wondering is this. What if a Barack Obama, instead of flying solo on the deeply controverted moral issue of abortion, simply said that he embraced the position of his denomination--the United Church of Christ; to wit:

The United Church of Christ has affirmed and re-affirmed since 1971 that access to safe and legal abortion is consistent with a woman’s right to follow the dictates of her own faith and beliefs in determining when and if she should have children, and it has supported comprehensive sexuality education as one measure to prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, and to create healthy and responsible sexual persons and relationships. (General Synods VIII, IX, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XVII, and XVIII)
We have also supported that women with limited financial means should be able to receive public funding in order to exercise her legal right to the full range of reproductive health services. What is legally available to women must be accessible to all women.

The United Church of Christ is one of the founding faith groups of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, formed in 1973 as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. Over the years, RCRC has continued to bring a strong voice of faith on the moral and religious issues that swirl around public debate over abortion, contraception and pregnancy prevention. Because there are many religious and theological perspectives on when life and personhood begin, the UCC joins others in advocating that public policy must honor this rich religious diversity. Our position is not a pro-abortion position but a pro-faith, pro-family and pro-woman position.

My guess is that hewing to the position of his church--which is, in fact, his position--would sit more easily with many pro-life Americans who themselves are influenced, as Joe Biden says he is, by their church's teaching. (Incidentally, I also suspect that Mitt Romney would have done better with pro-life evangelicals had he embraced embryonic stem-cell research--like the entire Mormon contingent in the U.S. Senate--on the grounds that his church teaches that "ensoulment" only occurs at implantation.) The point that Biden was at pains to make is that opposition to abortion is a religious teaching, but one that not all religious groups subscribe to; and in America we don't impose religious teachings on those who don't subscribe to them. There are counterarguments, of course, but this is a powerful argument to counter.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

September 3, 2008

Is Obama's Evangelical Outreach Now Hopeless?

I asked Mark DeMoss, Christian PR mogul who earlier said Obama was making real inroads in the evangelical community, whether it was now "game over" for Obama and his evangelical outreach efforts. He paused and thought for a moment. "Yes. I think so." Obama has been hurt by three things:

1. 1) Obama's poor performance on abortion at the Saddleback candidates forum
2. 2) Obama's position that faith based charities couldn't get federal money if they hired people only if their own faith
3. 3) McCain's pick of Sarah Palin.

"That's three strikes," said Demoss.

I think there's one more variable: if Obama pushes a plausible abortion reduction agenda, he might still convince moderate evangelicals that he has a moderate approach. But early signs are that the Obama campaign is not headed that way. A new radio ad hits McCain for opposing abortion, without mentioning Obama's abortion-reduction ideas.

This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.

August 29, 2008

Rice sociologist calls McCain's pick 'strategically brilliant'

Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University, believes that Sen. John's McCain's decision to pick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a strategically brilliant development. Lindsay is author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. I spoke with Lindsay this morning.

"The only dirt I know on [Palin] is that there’s some kind of indication that she was using political pressure to get [her ex-brother-in-law] fired. She has a lot of appeal for evangelicals. She’s pro-life, that’s something that’s important to evangelicals. No Republican has ever won the White House without evangelicals."

"If [McCain] had chosen a pro-choice candidate, like Ridge or Lieberman, [evangelicals] would have voted McCain, but they wouldn’t have mobilized around him. [Palin] is pro-life, she was involved in [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] growing up, she has the right background. Her child has Down syndrome. That shows not only a commitment to pro-life, but to living it out. That will be important for evangelical supporters of McCain. I think evangelicals honestly are probably relieved that McCain chose a pro-life candidate. In my research, the reason so many of these leaders were Republican was because of abortion."

"The real liability McCain faces is that he’s built his campaign against Obama on the issue of experience. Here’s a first term governor who was mayor of a small town in Alaska. Not a lot of executive experience, but McCain may be able to say there are different elements in the campaign that are important."

"I don’t know enough about [Palin] to say if she’s a perfect candidate. She doesn’t have the national profile that Mike Huckabee has. It is possible that McCain can introduce her to evangelicals in a way that’s winsome in the next couple of days."

Is she an evangelical?

"I don’t know what her church attendance is like. She’s been involved with groups that cater to evangelicals, but I don’t know if she is or not."

What about Sen. Obama's religious outreach? Do you think it's working?

"I think he’s very smart in terms of religious outreach. He’s got some great people working on his staff working on that front. The thing about Senator Obama’s campaign is that he does not have to win large segments of the evangelical votes. All he has to do is carve off some of votes in certain places. The cosmopolitan vote is the one most up for grabs."

"A cosmopolitan evangelical is someone who is less interested in converting the country or taking the country back for Christ; they are interested in seeing their faith as attractive. They’re less prone to see the evangelical subculture as their primary point of reference. It’s the cosmopolitan evangelicals that [McCain] has to win over in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida."

August 29, 2008

The view from the floor

Ted and Collin made astute observations about Barack Obama's acceptance speech and the benediction tonight.

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I'm honestly wiped out.

Invesco Field was packed with Obama supporters, stomping their feet and yelling the "Yes we can" slogan.

It felt like a football game, thanks to long lines for drinks and the fallen nachos crunching under my feet.

The fireworks set to cheesy music were pretty grand, but then finding my way out and getting around Denver has been a little nightmarish this entire week.

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Here are a few photos to give you a better picture of tonight's event. If you look very, very closely at the second one, that's Barack Obama.

During 'the traditional values' portion of Obama's speech, the crowd seemed to get the most excited about his last part about same-sex marriage.

"We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination."


Photos by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 28, 2008

Obama's Code Language

Democratic nominee borrows from New Testament.

I doubt any commentators will accuse Sen. Barack Obama of using religious code language in his acceptance speech. Yet two famous New Testament passages made an appearance. As is typical of civil religion today, God was replaced by the "American promise."

"Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend," Obama said, borrowing from 2 Corinthians 4:18.

Obama then concluded his remarks this way: "Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess."

This statement comes from Hebrews 10:23. But the context of this passage explains something far more beautiful than the American promise. "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:19-22).

Editor's Update: There's some confusion in the comments below, so some explanation may be helpful. Collin Hansen wrote this, but was having trouble posting it. So Ted Olsen posted it to the blog. The first comment (which begins, "Your observation is a shrewd one") is from John Hubers. The second is from Bethany Pledge Erickson, and so forth. (Oh, I didn't realize you'd gotten married, Bethany! A belated congratulations to you.)

August 28, 2008

The Abortion Line

I'm just watching on TV. Sarah Pulliam is actually at Invesco. But it sure seemed like the abortion line got a lot of applause.

August 28, 2008

Speaker: How the 'Obama Is a Muslim' E-mail Made Me an Obama Voter

An interesting testimony from Monica Early from Cuyahoga Falls, who says the circulating e-mail that says he's a secret Muslim led her eventually to support the candidate.

Early's my.BarackObama.com page says she supports Obama because "he speaks to my spiritual beliefs."

August 28, 2008

The 'Traditional Values' Part of Obama's Speech

Not a lot of God talk in Obama's speech tonight, but there will be talk about abortion, same-sex marriage, and traditional values (as well as a promise to "end our dependence on oil from the Middle East" in ten years). From the prepared remarks:

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

August 28, 2008

A peek into Obama's view of faith

Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University Law School revealed a portion of the meeting Barack Obama had with religious leaders in Chicago a few months ago in the faith caucus this afternoon.

"Franklin Graham asked him, 'Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life?'
"Sen. Obama paused and he thought. And he thought very carefully. He said, Reverend, he is my way.
"(Graham) No, no, is he THE way? Of course, the Reverend was making a point.
"(Kmiec) Our senator, the next president of the United States, a man of great intelligence and great integrity and great honesty, even if he’s not speaking in a place where he’s completely welcome. His message is consistent. No, Reverend, the person in my life who was of great service and most wonderful exemplar was my mother, and she never had the blessing of baptism. It is my understanding of faith that I will see her again in eternity. That she was not lost to salvation. One can dispute the theology, one can dispute the traditions, one can’t dispute the senator’s faith, commitment, his love of family and his authenticity. Barack Obama’s the real deal, and even Republicans can see it."

August 16, 2008

More on Obama and abortion

CBN's David Brody interviewed Sen. Barack Obama right after the Saddleback forum, and when he asked about the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, Obama became pretty heated.

"They have not been telling the truth ... I have said repeatedly that I would be completely support of the federal bill, which is to say that you would provide assistance to any infant that was born. ... That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. It was trying to undermine Roe v. Wade."

Brody will post the full video later tonight.

This is cross-posted from CT's liveblog.

August 16, 2008

The candidates' and the country's greatest failures

Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama just stood on the same platform for the first time this campaign.

One of the first questions Rick Warren posed to the candidates was: What would be the great moral failure in your life? What would be the great moral failure in America.

McCain said his personal failure was the failure of his first marriage but didn't say anything further on it. The country's greatest failure was its own self-interest.

"I think after 9/11, my friends, we should have told Americans to join the Peace Corps, expand the military, serve a cause greater than your self-interest," he said.

Obama's answer about himself:

"I had a difficult youth ... I experimented with drugs and drank ... I trace this to a certain selfishness on my point ... I couldn't focus on other people. The process of me growing up is to recognize that it’s not about me."

On the country's greatest failure:

"We still don't abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. That basic principle applies to poverty to racism and sexism. It applies to not thinking about ladders of opportunity to get in the middle class. As wealthy and powerful as we are don't spend enough time thinking about the least of these."

This is cross-posted from CT's liveblog.

August 16, 2008

Obama on abortion

Pastor Rick Warren posed a question on abortion to Sen. Barack Obama.

Warren asks, "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?"

Here is some of Obama's answer:

"Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.

"Let me speak more generally about the issue of abortion. One thing that I am absolutely convinced of is there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. ... I am pro-choice...not because I'm pro-abortion. But ultimately I do not think women make these decisions causally.

"I am for limits on late-term abortion.

"If you believe that life begins at conceptions, and you are consistent in that belief, then I can’t argue with you on that. That is a core issue of faith for you. What I can do is say are there ways to work together to reduce unwanted pregnancies.
As an example of that is, how do we provide the resources for women to keep a child? … Have we given them the options of adoption?"

This is cross-posted from CT's liveblog.

August 16, 2008

Obama is still not a Muslim

Twelve percent of respondents believe Barack Obama is Muslim, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Rick Warren asked Obama: What does it mean to you to trust in Christ on a daily basis.

"I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed by him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis. I know that I don't walk alone. I know if I can get myself out of the way, I can maybe carry out in some small way what he intends. Those things that I have on a fairly regular basis will get washed way. It also means an sense of obligation to embrace not through just words but deeds the expectations God has for us. That means thinking about the least of these. It means acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly."

This is cross-posted from CT's liveblog.

August 16, 2008

What about Proposition 8?

Leaving marriage to the states? Really?

At the Saddleback Civil Forum, Obama just said that he opposes a federal marriage amendment because he thinks it's not something the federal constitution should decide. It's a state issue, he says.

He also says he supports civil unions, but thinks marriage is between a man and a woman.

So why does he oppose California's Proposition 8? It only deals with marriage, but would allow civil unions.

If "leaving the issue to the states" doesn't mean allowing a state to define marriage, what does it mean?

Too bad Warren didn't ask a follow up question on it, considering it's his own state.

Update: Warren, who said he'd ask the same questions of both candidates, just asked McCain about the California Supreme Court decision and Proposition 8. McCain says he thinks the states rather than the federal government should define marriage, but does support a federal marriage amendment if necessary. He has also supported Prop. 8.

This is cross-posted from CT's liveblog.

August 12, 2008

Obama's Squandered Opportunity on Abortion -- and How He Could Turn It Around

Earlier today I listened in on a phone press conference with leading pro-life religious liberals called by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. (Click here to listen to the call.) They were praising the new draft Democratic Party abortion plank which advocates government policies to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. (Click here to read the new plank and the 2004 platform). Wallis called it a "real step forward," while Rev. Joel Hunter called it "a historic and courageous step."

What am I missing? It seems to me that, on balance, if you're pro-life this platform is about the same as the 2004 platform -- slightly better in some ways and, actually, slightly worse in other ways.

Continue reading Obama's Squandered Opportunity on Abortion -- and How He Could Turn It Around...

August 12, 2008

Not pro-abortion

In their proposed new platform language, the Democrats toss a bone to the pro-life community by spelling out ways to make abortion rarer:

We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

Brody, who's got the old and new text side by side, is somewhat impressed--but claims that the proof of the pudding will be whether the Democrats in general and candidate Obama in particular say they're prepared to sign on to concrete anti-abortion measures such as parental notification. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Douglas Kmiec, who as Obama's most prominent conservative Catholic supporter had a hand in the new language, contends that it represents a significant (if not, by his lights, sufficient) move. Naturally, his erstwhile friends on the right don't think so, and are contemptuous of him for making the case. They recognize that the language will enable Obama and party to make the case that they are not, as the pro-life community always puts it, "pro-abortion."

Continue reading Not pro-abortion...

July 24, 2008

Will Evangelicals Accept Obama's Vision of Christianity?

I was listening James Dobson's recent radio broadcast in which he announced that he's considering endorsing McCain. The program, a conversation with conservative radio host Al Mohler, focused mostly on Obama's "extreme" positions on abortion and homosexuality.

But the most interesting part was their criticism of Obama's theology. They both recommended that evangelicals should read the recent Newsweek cover story on Obama's faith. Dobson says it shows that Obama believes in "liberation theology."
Mohler summarized it a bit more precisely: "He really believes that Christianity can be a functional impetus towards social change in a liberal direction. I don't think they that's what most evangelical Christians think of when they think of a basic understanding of Chirsitanity."

Fascinating. It may be that part of what determines how many Christians become Obamagelicals is how they interpret Christianity.

Continue reading Will Evangelicals Accept Obama's Vision of Christianity?...

July 14, 2008

Obama Launches 'American Values Report'

The Obama campaign has begun issuing a weekly 'American Values Report,' with the first edition out last Friday. The report is sent as a PDF file via email, so God-o-Meter can't post the whole thing here. But it has chosen a few choice excerpts from the 9-page document, which an Obama aide says was sent to "several thousand" recipients.

The report includes "Meet Barack" and "Meet Michelle" features, information to "Help us Draft a Platform," how to "Become an American Values Supporter!" and how to "Participate in the Values Question of the Week." It also includes "Spotlight On People of Faith" interviews:

Continue reading Obama Launches 'American Values Report'...

July 9, 2008

To the Left

On NBC's "Today," Obama sought to counter charges that he is triangulating himself into the center by pointing out, among other things, that he has consistently supported faith-based initiatives. This may be an area, however, where he has made an adjustment to the left. In The Audacity of Hope, he writes:

[O]ne can envision certain faith-based programs--targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers--that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems and hence merit carefully tailored support. (p. 221)

Now saying that such faith-based programs are "uniquely" qualified can only mean that they incorporate religion into the treatment plan--something secular service providers can't do. And that therefore they offer something that employees not committed to the particular religious program can't supply. In short, this would seem to be an oblique endorsement of a hiring exemption from religious non-discrimination rules for at least some faith-based providers. And that's something Obama seemed explicitly to rule out last week. For those evangelicals and other embracers of the Bush approach who expected something more congenial from Obama, it appears they had some reason to be disappointed.

This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.

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July 9, 2008

At One Evangelical College, Some Considering Obama

Reporters are looking for any indication of how evangelicals are going to vote this November, and what better way than to go to where evangelicals live and breathe with each other every day.

Tina Chong writes for the Huffington Post that a small group of faculty and staff members at Westmont College hosted an "Evangelicals for Obama" meeting last month.

The headline might be a stretch, considering Chong only visited one evangelical school: "Evangelicals Contemplating Obama." I doubt the students of Gordon College in Massachusetts are going to vote the same as students from Westmont in California. Plus, the small sample she observed? There were only about 15 of them.

Still, I won't be surprised if we see more reports popping up about other evangelical colleges once school begins.

July 8, 2008

Obama at the AME

Now up on YouTube, Obama's speech to the African Methodist Episcopal Convention in St. Louis Saturday continues the theme of service that he spoke of in his earlier addresses last week. The Fourth of July could not be, he said a "passive celebration," but had to involve "service, and sacrifice and each of us doing our part to leave our children a world that is kinder and more just." And just as that could not be "an idle celebration," so "our faith cannot be an idle faith...It must be an active faith."

Beginning with the importance of helping those in need with the right domestic policies and programs, Obama went on to stress the need for African Americans not to be content with blaming its troubles on racism: "I'm not interested us in adopted the posture of victim.... [W]e cannot use injustice as an excuse. We cannot use poverty as an excuse." His support for faith-based institutions was, he said, "how we match societal responsibility with individual responsibility."

In the current issue of Religion in the News, Steve Warner nicely elucidates this classic black-church synthesis of collective and personal obligation, which cuts across conventional American political categories of left and right. Here Obama makes clear not only how faith-based programs express this synthesis but why they represent the moral core of his campaign.

One might add that the synthesis is not only classically black but also classically Methodist. And it can be found not only in Methodist denominations like the AME Church but also, as a kind of moral undertone, in the public culture of the Midwest. A tip of the hat to Mark Noll for this insight, which he discusses in his chapter in Religion in Public Life in the Midwest and we discuss in the Midwest chapter in One Nation, Divisible.

This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.

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July 7, 2008

What's in a Name?

Obama's campaign has dropped 'Joshua Generation' name.

The Home School Legal Defense Assocation said today that it is dropping plans to sue Sen. Barack Obama's campaign over the name "Joshua Generation," according to Rebecca Sinderbrand at CNN.

Obama's campaign created the new program to reach evangelical and Catholic young people but told HSLDA it will rename the initiative.

The organization sent the Obama campaign a cease-and-desist letter last month after the campaign announced the "Joshua Generation Project." HSLDA launched the group "Generation Joshua" in 2004 as a way for teenagers to become involved in politics.

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July 6, 2008

Don't get me wrong

Obama clarifies his earlier statements on abortion.

Sen. Barack Obama came out against using "mental distress" as a justification for late-term abortions, and he clarified his position Saturday.

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"Historically, I have been a strong believer in a woman's right to choose, with her doctor, her pastor, her family," he said Saturday. "And I've been consistent in saying you have to have a health exception on any significant restrictions or bans on abortions, including late-term abortions.

"It can be defined by physical health. It can be defined by serious clinical mental health diseases," he continued. But "it's not just a matter of feeling blue."

Julia Duin at the Washington Times writes that conservative black pastors are caught between irreconcilable opposites. Many of the congregations want to back Sen. Barack Obama but have personal doubts about Obama's political views, particularly on abortion.

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July 5, 2008

Just Six Little Words

Obama's efforts to woo evangelical voters may not be as clear cut as they seem.

Sen. Barack Obama told reporters Saturday that he is optimistic about winning the evangelical vote in November.

"If we show up, if we let folks know that we're interested in them and we share a lot of common values, then we're not going to win 100 percent of the evangelical vote. We might not even win 50 percent of the evangelical vote. But we will at least take some of the sharp edges off this divide that's existed in our politics. And that hopefully will allow people to listen to each other, and that will help me govern over the long term."

Obama promised Saturday that he will make "faith-based" social service "a moral center of my administration," according to Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post.

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Earlier this week, Obama announced that he would increase funds for the office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Although reporters called it an effort to reach out to evangelicals, Peter Steinfels at The New York Times outlines how Obama's speech included six little words that sparked the dispute.

"First," Obama said, "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion."

That little phrase between the dashes - "or against the people you hire" - ignited a political explosion, Seinfeld wrote.

There has been an ongoing debate over whether faith-based organizations can discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs, a nonnegotiable for many evangelical social-service providers.

When asked whether he would keep the office open, Obama told Christianity Today in January that he wants to see how the moneys have been allocated.

"One of the things that I think churches have to be mindful of is that if the federal government starts paying the piper, then they get to call the tune," Obama told CT. "It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom."

Sen. John McCain's spokesperson, Brett O'Donnell, told CT that the Arizona candidate wants faith-based groups to "have at least the same standing as they have now."

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